3 keys for the Aztecs against Cal State Fullerton

Aztecs
Credit: Garrison/EVT

The San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team dropped a tough game against Michigan on Saturday. Now, Brian Dutcher’s team will try to respond with a matchup against Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.

Here are the three keys for the Aztecs to get back to their winning ways.

1. Control E.J. Anosike

Cal State Fullerton features three double-digit scorers – Tray Maddox, Dante Maddox (no relation), and Anosike. Of the three, the most dominant is Anosike. The fifth-year senior averages 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season. The Titans need their offense to flow through him. The Titans are undefeated when he has taken at least 15 shot attempts. 

Anosike originally played for Sacred Heart for three seasons. He averaged 15.7 points his junior year. Last season, he transferred to Tennessee but struggled to get on the floor, averaging only eight minutes a game. With COVID giving players an extra year of eligibility, his career has rebounded at Cal State Fullerton.

“Anosike is very good, he scores in and around the basket,” Brian Dutcher said in Tuesday’s press conference. Dutcher said that Nathan Mensah may have difficulty defending Anosike at the rim because “he shoots a fall-away jump shot that is hard to get to.”

Anosike is 6-foot-7 and 236 pounds. He is muscular and has similarities to David Roddy of Colorado State. Anosike can use his size in the paint to create a shot for himself, he rebounds well and can also defend the rim. He is efficient offensively, shooting 54.5% from the field.

Anosike is not afraid to shoot a jumper, but his range does not extend out to the three-point line. However, Anosike has only made one three this season and is a career 28% shooter from beyond the arc.

2. Aztecs must stick to their strengths defensively

The Aztecs do not need to shoot the lights out to win this game. According to Kenpom rankings, the Titans rank 150th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. This will be a big step up in defensive competition for the Titans. The best defense they have faced coming into this game was Santa Clara who ranks 109th in defensive efficiency. The Aztecs rank ninth.

The Aztecs will not have to worry about a Michigan Wolverines’ sequel with a three-point frenzy. Only 28% of the Titans points come from three, which ranks 338th. But, this could be because they only shoot 29% from the three-point line as a team.

The Titans like to play at a slow pace. According to Kenpom, the Titans rank 294th in offensive tempo. Regardless of their ranking, Dutcher is aware that if CSUF gets an early, open look, they will take the shot.

“We have to do a good job staying in front of them, body in front of the body, and then finish the possessions with a rebound,” Dutcher said.

Fullerton does a great job of getting to the free-throw line and making their free throws. They shoot 77.6% from the line so avoiding foul trouble will be important for the Aztecs.

3. Next man up mentality, build momentum toward the end of the non-conference schedule

After returning from Ann Arbor, the Aztecs spent no time moping about their third loss of the season.

“I liked what I saw in practice, they were spirited,” Dutcher said. “They have a desire to get better, we’re learning lessons along the way.”

With Lamont Butler likely out until the beginning of January, the Aztecs must find a way to replace his impact offensively and defensively. With SDSU’s final chance for a resume-building, non-conference, win looming against Saint Mary’s on 12/17, this will be an important game to regain momentum following the loss of their star point guard.

“Yeah we miss Lamont,” Dutcher said following the Michigan game. “But we can’t complain or cry about it. We just have to find ways to win until he comes back.”

Dutcher pointed out that Trey Pulliam wore down against the Wolverines after playing 38 minutes, serving as the primary ball-handler. Dutcher says he is not worried about Pulliam’s conditioning because he will continue to improve his game shape with Butler sidelined. Regardless, finding a way to take pressure off Pulliam is critical. 

Look for a healthy Adam Seiko to have a bigger role in bringing up the ball. From a scoring perspective, the Aztecs will continue to wait for Keith Dinwiddie to get hot from three. Though the sophomore guard is shooting only 29% from three on the season, he is likely SDSU’s best option to replace Butler’s point production. 

Dutcher said that Chad Baker-Mazara may be a factor moving forward as he showed exciting flashes at the end of the Wolverine game.

“He played great in the closing two minutes, that’s what earns you more time,” Dutcher said.

Baker-Mazara hit a three-pointer, grabbed a rebound and dribbled down for a midrange jumper. The possession following, he took a confident jumper and missed. The Aztecs need the freshman transfer to show more of how he played last season down the stretch for Duquesne. Look for him to continue building confidence.

 

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Austin Tarke
Senior at San Diego State University, class of 2022. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.
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