The San Diego State Aztecs (3-1) defeated the St. Mary’s Gaels (2-2), 79-54, behind a dominant second half that broke open a one-point halftime lead.
The Aztecs will play the winner of Xavier and Washington on Sunday night at 7 pm for the championship of the Continental Tire Main Event.
For the fourth time in as many games, the Aztecs were led by forward Jaedon LeDee’s 25 points (10-17 FG, 4-5 FT) and eight rebounds. He added two assists and two steals.
A tweet by Jared Berson noted that LeDee became only the second Division I player (Obi Toppin) in the last ten seasons to score 20+ points on at least 55% shooting in each of his first four games of a season.
San Diego State’s Jaedon LeDee is the 2nd Division I player over the last 10 seasons to score 20+ points on at least 55% shooting in each of his first 4 games of a season.
The other was Dayton’s Obi Toppin in 2019-20, en route to the Wooden Award.
— Jared Berson (@JaredBerson) November 18, 2023
The Aztecs avenged the loss to the Gaels in last year’s contest and now lead the overall series 8-7. Both teams started the season ranked in the AP Top 25 but fell out after losses over the weekend. With wins over Long Beach State (who won at Michigan on Friday night) and St. Mary’s this week, the Aztecs should be back in the Top 25 on Monday.
Reese Waters contributed 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
After struggling for the first 16 minutes of the game and trailing by six late in the first half, the Aztecs’ offense sprung to life, making four out of five shots and all four free throws to spur an 11-4 run for a 34-33 halftime lead.
Their aggressiveness and intensity reached a higher level as they came out of halftime. They attacked the rim endlessly, grabbing five offensive rebounds in the first three minutes.
They took charge of the game with an 11-0 run that provided them a 49-41 lead with 13:31 remaining in the game. LeDee scored eight of the 11 on three buckets and two free throws.
Waters drained a turnaround jumper to give the Aztecs a 12-point lead with 7:30 remaining but drew his first technical as an Aztecs for complaining about a non-foul call on the shot.
After the Gaels cut the lead to nine with 7:08 remaining, the Aztecs ran off 14 unanswered points to extend the lead to 23. The first six points came on layups/dunks by Lamont Butler, LeDee, and Elijah Saunders before LeDee drained a triple from the corner right in front of his bench, which got the pro-SDSU crowd on its feet. The run was capped off by another Waters bucket and a Darrion Trammell three-pointer.
Both teams shot 42% in the first half, bu the Aztecs scorched the nets at 59.4% (19-32) in the second half, while the Gaels only mustered 25% (7-28). The Gaels also missed eight of their 14 free throw attempts.
“Obviously pleased with our effort today,” said SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher postgame. “We are a defensive-minded program, and when we get stops, we are hard to play against. I thought we guarded at a high level today. They are very difficult to play against; I thought we did a good job defensively.”
The Aztecs kept the same starting lineup they utilized for the first three games of the season, continuing to bring Darrion Trammell off the bench. They played with mostly an eight-man rotation throughout the night as Miles Byrd returned from a two-game absence due to injury, and Jay Pal only played three minutes until the final moments of the game.
Demarshay Johnson, Jr. remained out with a shoulder injury. Cade Alger, wearing a mask to protect his surgically repaired nose, made his first appearance of the season, playing in the final minute of the game.
Three different Aztecs tallied four assists (the team recorded 19).
“After BYU, we felt we had to share the ball (and) make each other better,” said Dutcher postgame. “We had 19 assists tonight, had 20 in our last game, so when we share the ball and take care of the ball, we are hard to play against.”
Things did not start out so well for the Aztecs, committing a shot clock violation on the first possession of the game. Through the first 16 minutes of the game, they missed 13 of 19 field goal attempts, six of 14 free throws, and committed five turnovers to trail 25-21.
The Gaels had their own early struggles, missing their first six shots of the game before making six of their next seven. Their first four buckets of the game came from forward Joshua Jefferson, who muscled in the paint for layups. Three-pointers by Alex Ducas and Aidan Mahaney provided the Gaels a 14-10 lead.
Mahaney, the Gaels’ leading scorer averaging 17 points per game, only had five at the half and finished with eight for the game (3-12 FG, 2-5 3PT).
“If we can get three stops in a row, we can build some momentum,” said Dutcher about the runs the team made tonight. “The key is getting stops … we ended up getting stops, and those stops created baskets for us.”
Center Mitchell Saxen (16) and Jefferson (12) were the only Gaels in double digits, but the majority of their points were in the first half. Saxen led them with two blocks.
Despite not shooting the ball well in the first half, the Aztecs got to the free throw line 18 times (making 12) while keeping the Gaels off the line (they attempted only three). Six of the Aztecs’ attempts came on fouls called against the Gaels defending three-point attempts.
Elijah Saunders blocked four of the team’s seven shots and added five rebounds.
The Aztecs improved from 29th to 15th in KenPom following the victory.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.