Aztecs prove to be too much to handle for the Spartans

Credit: San Jose State Athletics

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Credit: San Jose State Athletics

It was not as easy as the double-digit victory shows, but the Aztecs claimed their first win streak in a month. SDSU led for the entire game and beat the Spartans 72-62.

The offense did not quite show signs of turning the corner. The Aztecs still heavily relied on Bradley, missed easy layups, and had their third straight game with only one double-digit scorer.

SDSU could not pull away from a Spartan team that is winless in 10 conference games, with only one of those losses decided by single digits. SJSU came into the game ranked 317th in defensive efficiency and has lost the last three games by a combined 62 points. Still, it was a four-point game with 13:27 left in the contest.

But a road win is a great win in the Mountain West. The Aztecs claim their second conference victory away from Viejas Arena this season.

“I want to enjoy the heck out of this because I know how hard road wins are. I don’t care who you’re playing, where you’re playing,” coach Brian Dutcher said after the game.

Before the game, Matt Bradley was asked his thoughts on the competition level of the Mountain West, “Every game has been challenging. I was talking to some buddies from the Pac-12 that this conference is dangerous, don’t sleep,” Bradley said. To the Spartans’ credit, they embodied the Mountain West spirit and fought to the final whistle.

“You can’t take a night off in this conference,” Dutcher said

The Spartans occasionally brought out a 2-3 zone to disrupt the Aztecs’ rhythm. Matt Bradley said before the game, “We don’t see the zone often, but we got a couple players who feel pretty good in the mid-range area to break it down.” When the Spartans brought it out, Bradley immediately broke it down with an alley-oop pass to Nathan Mensah. Bradley knocked down multiple jumpers on the ugly brown-colored mid-range area on the Spartan court.

This trip to the Bay Area is special for Bradley. Bradley spent three years playing about an hour north at Cal Berkeley. He said before the game, “I’ve been looking forward to this game. I’m happy to play there. I got some people from my church family out and other friends in the bay area.”

The Spartan crowd was weak in the arena, but there was a particular Spartan fan in the arena who dressed in San Jose blue with a duck mask. He perfected the outfit by playing the guitar on an inflatable loaf of bread.

Bradley impressed his friends, family, and the dancing duck with the first basket of the game, then continued his scoring with multiple threes, including a four-point play in transition. He had 18 second-half points falling just shy of hitting 30 points as he finished the game with 28 points and seven rebounds.

“He’s unstoppable. He’s shooting the transition three, driving to the basket,” Dutcher said. “We have to continue to find guys to play alongside him.”

Credit: San Jose State Athletics

Bradley may have been the only double-digit scorer, but there was a collective effort from his teammates.

The Spartans started San Diego native Trey Anderson, at center who stands at 6’7. With his size advantage, Mensah dominated as he controlled the glass and the paint. He finished with seven points and six rebounds.

Keshad Johnson, after getting chased down and fouled at the rim on a fastbreak dunk, used his size in the lane as he threw down thunderous dunks in the second half. He finished with eight points and six rebounds.

Joshua Tomaic and Chad Baker-Mazara also had eight points each.

“I thought Chad Baker was dangerous offensively,” Dutcher said. “Josh has played great back-to-back games for us.”

After losing the rebound battle by five in the first half, the Aztecs ended up winning the rebound battle 34-33. They also dominated the paint with 38 points inside.

A talking point in the press conference and from the commentators was that the Aztecs currently average more turnovers than assists. Dutcher said before the game, “We have to have more assists than turnovers to win games.”

Fortunately for SDSU, they faced a Spartan team that ranks 332nd in creating turnovers. The Aztecs finished equal in the areas with nine apiece.

Before the game, Dutcher was fearful of the Spartans ability to shoot the three-ball. Almost 42% of their points come from beyond the arc, the 9th highest in the NCAA. They shoot a high percentage at 36%, which is the second-highest in the conference. “They’re gonna take them. Hopefully, we contest enough of them where they aren’t making a high percentage,” Dutcher said.

The Spartans took their customary attempts and kept the game close, hitting six of their first 13. The Aztecs controlled the Spartans after that, holding them to 3-13 the rest of the way. SJSU finished 9-26 from behind the arc for the game.

The Aztecs once again brought out their full-court press, which posed problems for the Spartans. The press took them out of their rhythm, and the Spartans finished with 17 turnovers.

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Aside from their three-point shooting, the Spartans’ offense is weak. They rank 220th nationally.

It took the Spartans 12 minutes to get to 10 points in the first half, but in the second half, they came out scoring as they scored 10 points in less than 5 minutes. In the second half, the Spartans shot much better from the field. They shot 46% and scored 40 second-half points.

Freshman Myron Amey, who started his first game after scoring 24 points last game against Boise State, was the leading scorer for the Spartans. He made threes and rebounded. He finished the game with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

The Aztecs now come back home, where they will shortly see Air Force at Viejas Arena on Saturday night. Dutcher said before the game regarding the coaching staff’s consistent responsibilities, “It’s groundhog day. Every day is the same day for our coaching staff. We work every day to get the team ready to play.”

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