San Diego State met Kennesaw State on Monday night at the house Steve Fisher built. Though it was the first time the programs met on the court, they share a commonality off it. Aztecs assistant JD Pollock played for the Owls for two seasons. Pollock averaged 5.0 a game over 37 contests from 2007-2009.
“Well, it was (Pollock’s) scout,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said postgame. “He had us ready to play. He does a great job. JD is a great young coach. I didn’t talk to him, but I know he had to feel his heartstrings touched with his alma mater playing. It was fun to get a victory.”
As he has all season, Dutcher rolled out the same starting five of Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler, Keshad Johnson, Matt Bradley, and Nathan Mensah. Following the tip, an emphasis on ball movement was evident. SDSU tried to work the ball inside to Johnson. He was the only Aztec who did not touch it on the opening possession. The other four players did, and SDSU was rewarded.
Bradley found Trammell in the corner near Kennesaw’s bench. With a pump fake on the closing defender, the Aztecs’ guard scored a wide-open two-point bucket.
After the first bucket, SDSU returned to the isolation approach, and the offense sputtered. Outside of a score by Bradley on a terrific spin move at the right elbow, the Aztecs failed to convert. They were down 5-4 at the first timeout. Butler had a pair of turnovers and was quickly subbed out of the game by Micah Parrish.
Following the break, the Aztecs shared the ball more liberally again. Trammell had a pair of assists, including a clever pass to Mensah for a dunk and a heady pass in transition for a three by Parrish. Aguek Arop checked in and found Jaedon LeDee for another easy basket. Bringing the Madhouse on the Mesa to a crescendo was another great pass by Trammell. This time he hit Johnson, who was streaking down the court, for a huge dunk. SDSU had eight assists on the team’s first 12 made field goals.
“That’s just it, Saint Mary’s, Arizona, and Arkansas, they’re not going to leave shooters,” Dutcher explained. “They’re going to say, ‘we have a seven-footer at the rim. We’re going to stay extended on your shooters. You have to drive and score over them, or you have to hit a post and score over us.’ That’s what these big teams are doing, so we share the ball. (Kennesaw) obviously, they’re trying to help on big guys. They’re doing a good job helping, but that leaves guys open, and we find people. It’s more of a by-product of how teams play us than our willingness to pass the ball.”
The Owls came into the game as the eighth-best three-point shooting team at 40.7%. They lived up to their reputation early, making three of their first six to keep the game close early. Chris Youngblood converted his first two attempts on the night.
After falling behind 29-14, Kennesaw switched to a zone to force the Aztecs to beat them from the outside. Despite opening 2-11 from deep compared to 10-13 from inside the arc, the Aztecs obliged. SDSU hit a pair of shots on two defensive miscues but failed to convert in the rhythm of its offense on three other attempts.
It did not matter. The Aztecs’ defense forced the Owls off the three-point line and into live-ball turnovers that SDSU transitioned quickly into offense. They led 39-25 at the half because of ten fast break points and 11 points off of turnovers.
Parrish was the only Montezuman in double digits. He had ten on 4-9 shooting. Trammell filled the stat sheet with seven points, four assists, two steals, and three rebounds. Mensah was the most dominant player, and Kennesaw had no one who could match up with him. He scored six, pulled down five rebounds, and rejected a pair of shots. At the half, SDSU shot 16-38 (42.1%) from the field and 4-18 (22.2%) from deep.
Most impressively, they had 12 assists on their 16 made field goals. During the first four games of the season, they averaged 15.5 assists every game. Beginning with the Arizona game in Maui, SDSU has averaged 10.2 per game when their contest against non-scholarship Occidental is taken out of consideration. They had four against the Wildcats, eight against Arkansas, 16 against UC Irvine, 12 against Troy, and 11 Saturday against Saint Mary’s. When the Aztecs shared the ball in the first half, they scored. When they shot in isolation, they did not.
The second half opened with SDSU suffocating Kennesaw defensively. The Owls’ first two possession ended in passes out of bounds forced by the Aztecs’ pressure. Mensah had a highlight block that bounced off the backboard almost to half-court. Four more failed attempts and the scoring drought reach three minutes.
SDSU came out with purpose on the offensive end as well. Hitting two of its first three shots and making four free throws. The Aztecs went on a 9-0 run to open a 48-25 advantage. Kennesaw called a timeout to stop the bleeding. They were able to feel a little better about themselves before the media timeout when a three-point attempt narrowed the margin to 20 with 15:45 remaining.
“In the locker room, coach was basically saying he felt like we could have to close them out in the first half, but we didn’t,” Parrish said. “The starters did a good job. They got three stops in a row coming out, so that’s what started the run.
The momentum of the game slowed following the pause in the action. SDSU had already drawn six fouls, and the free throws piled up on the subsequent possessions. More often than not, LeDee was at the charity stripe. He was 7-7 before the 13-minute mark raising his point total to 13. With eleven minutes left, SDSU led 61-34.
In the second half, the Aztecs were far more selective from the outside. After shooting 18 threes in the first 20 minutes, they shot four over the first eleven minutes of the second half. They hit three wide-open shots created by crisp cross-court assists.
One of the recipients of the great passes was Parrish. Once he saw that shot fall, he took his offensive game to another level. Defining what it means to be a scorer from all levels, he added a special and-one layup to his left and a strong pull-up jumper to the previous three. He paced the Aztecs with 17 as the game was completely out of hand, 73-39, with seven minutes left. He would finish with 19 to lead both teams.
“I just got to find my spots,” Parrish said on how this game could help him moving forward. “Every game is not going to be my game, and I realized that. It was tough for me, coming from my old school where I might get 12, 13 shots or something like that. Here, I might only get four shots. It’s just game by game, like coach says, an ‘NBA mentality.’ I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win.”
All that was left to play for down the stretch was the opportunity for the Show to chant, “Double your score.” It was the only benchmark SDSU failed to reach on the night. Aztecs rebounded from Saturday’s loss with a resounding 88-54 victory.