The SDSU Aztecs traveled up to Provo for an opening weekend game with important NCAA tournament implications.
The Aztecs have renewed a yearly matchup with their rival Cougars, defeating them in Provo in 2019, before being beaten in an empty Viejas Arena in 2020. San Diego State played solid defense, but poor Aztec shooting proved critical.
A combination of controversial calls that helped the Cougars and the Aztecs shooting just 47.4% from the charity stripe also cost the Aztecs. San Diego State fell 66-60. It was a closely contested affair and the Aztecs suffered a crucial early-season result.
The Aztecs struggled with shooting, hitting just 39% of their shots and 14% of their shots from behind the arc. San Diego State also failed to take advantage of free throws, going 9-for-19. BYU put up 18 points from the free-throw line on 23 shots.
Nathan Mensah had a huge game, putting up 18 points on seven shots. Mensah added eight rebounds on the night for the Aztecs, half of which were offensive rebounds. Trey Pulliam, who returned on his extra year of eligibility granted as a result of the pandemic, put up 12 points. Pulliam did hit just one of his six three-point shots, which proved to be costly.
The Aztecs trailed for most of the game, but BYU never led by more than six points. Keith Dinwiddie Jr. hit a three-pointer with 6:19 to go in the game, putting the Aztecs ahead 54-53, but the Aztecs scored just two points in the next five and a half minutes.
Both teams struggled from the floor, as BYU also shot under 40%, but the missed free throws from the Aztecs were the difference. The Cougars did get four more rebounds than the Aztecs, but they all came on the defensive glass, and the Aztecs had four more shots than BYU.
Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher said, “I liked our grit, I liked our fight,” but also conceded that “We needed to execute better.”
Dutcher also discussed the struggles from the free-throw line, stating plainly, “We need to make free throws.”
BYU’s senior guard, Alex Barcello, scored 17 points, shooting 6-for-10 from the field, and hitting 60% of his three-pointers. The only other Cougar to find himself in double digits was Te’Jon Lucas, but he shot just 17% from the floor, using free throws to get to his 13 points.
The Aztecs deserved to lose, but they beat themselves, as there’s a lot to improve. It’s a frustrating outcome, especially against a big rival, but they can use the disappointing loss as a wake-up call. That’s why SDSU plays good teams early in order to figure out who they are. They’ll need to do the little things better to beat Arizona State on Thursday.