Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – When it mattered most, No. 1 seed Utah State found a way.

In a game between two teams that combined for seven runs of seven or more points, the Aggies found the latest and greatest one – an 11-point run to begin the overtime period – to put them over the top of No. 9 Fresno State, 87-75, in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship.

The second half alone featured four such runs, including an eight-point run with 5 minutes left to put the Aggies up, then a seven-point run by the Bulldogs to tie it up, capped by an Isaiah Hill layup. The senior Bulldog finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

But as the final score would suggest, it was all Utah State in the extra five minutes.

The last matchup between the two teams just a couple of weeks ago also went the distance. In that game, Utah State also came out on top by three points. Games like that one, Aggies guard Javon Jackson said, have made his team ready for the bright lights.

“It’s a testament to our whole season,” said Jackson, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds off the bench. “We’ve been preparing for moments like that the whole season, close games and stuff, and executing at the end of games. I think that prepared us.”

A tie game at the end of regulation usually isn’t how the team up eight with 4:45 left would like it to end up. But according to Utah State center Great Osobor, none of the Aggies mind a close game. It drives them, and it happens to be something they’ve been a part of pretty much the entire season.

Good thing, because it won’t get any easier from here.

“It’s the Mountain West, there’s no team in the Mountain West that we’re going to come in and just beat,” Osobor said. “It’s high-level basketball, and we tend to thrive in close games. I’m happy for our team’s resiliency and the way that we stick together in close games.”

Osobor racked up 29 points to go with 17 rebounds and four assists. He got to the free throw line early and often, finishing with a Mountain West tournament-record 24 attempts at the charity stripe, making 15 of them. He was fouled 20 times.

Which was a point of emphasis coming into the game for Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle. Not only did he want his team to assert its physicality and get to the free-throw line, but putting Fresno State in foul trouble only helped.

In total, the Bulldogs committed 27 fouls. Senior Isaiah Pope and junior Enoch Boakye fouled out late, having already missed chunks of time due to fouls. Three other Bulldogs finished with four whistles.

“That’s our game plan every game,” Sprinkle said. “That’s just the style we play, and our players, that’s kind of what we’re built for, being aggressive and really trying to attack the paint to either draw fouls or get the ball to the rim and let guys play one-on-one.

“It’s been one of our strengths. We obviously missed some front end (free throws), and we had chances to – I wouldn’t say put them away – but we had a chance to make it a seven-point lead, and we would miss the front end of a one-and-one and they would hit a 3. Now all of a sudden, it’s a one-possession game. Moving forward, we have to clean it up at the free-throw line.”

The Aggies will take on the winner of No. 4 UNLV and No. 5 San Diego State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. for the first Mountain West semifinal.