Aztecs pummel Paladins, move on to Sweet 16

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Credit: Furman Athletics

After so many years of agonizing March moments for Brian Dutcher and the San Diego State Aztecs, they left no doubt on Saturday morning.

SDSU handled the overmatched Furman Paladins comfortably, holding them to a season-low 52 points. For the third time in program history, the Aztecs are headed to Sweet 16. Either Alabama or Maryland will separate them from a first-ever Elite 8. 

The game began at a breakneck pace, with Furman and San Diego State both pushing the ball up the floor rapidly. Quick passes and driving cuts from the Paladins gave them open looks, and both teams struggled to score from outside early. The two teams missed their first seven three-pointers, many of which were open looks.

After the first media timeout, JP Pegues finally ended Furman’s struggles from three-point land with a shot over Aguek Arop as the shot clock ran down. With twelve minutes left in the first half, Darrion Trammell threw up a perfect lob for Keshad Johnson, who slammed it home. 

The Aztecs played fantastic defense, but Southern Conference player of the year Jalen Slawson drained a three from five feet beyond the arc. It had been a frustrating start for the Aztecs, who seemed to be stifling Furman’s offense, but the Paladins were hitting tough shots. Micah Parrish put the Aztecs ahead with a basket from inside the paint, giving San Diego State the lead. Furman’s contested shots finally started missing, letting the Aztecs take control of the game. 

Arop kept the run going as he blocked a three-pointer from Pegues before feeding Parrish for an easy bucket. A minute later, Arop fed Parrish again with a fantastic pass as Parrish cut inside. On SDSU’s next possession, Parrish hit the Aztecs’ first three of the game before a basket in transition gave him another two points. “It was really just my teammates finding me in transition.”, said Parrish when he was asked about his scoring output. He scored 11 of the Aztecs first 30 points, while a lengthy scoring drought for Furman meant SDSU was on a 15-0 run.

Credit: Furman Athletics

With the Paladins struggling to get stops, they switched to a 1-3-1 zone, which proved extremely successful in their comeback win over Virginia. Furman went an agonizing eleven minutes without a field goal, though they did pick up a handful of points from the charity stripe. “We just controlled the tempo on the defensive side, and we didn’t let them go out and run.”, said Lamont Butler, the Mountain West defensive player of the year. 

Jalen Slawson, Furman’s best player, picked up three fouls in the first four minutes of the second half. That moved him to four fouls, sending him to the bench. San Diego State drew five fouls in the first four minutes of the half, putting the Paladins in a terrible spot.

The Paladins began to make three-pointers, but the Aztecs kept pace offensively, keeping their lead at about 20. Trammell hit an incredible three with Pegues all over him. He’d struggled of late, but if he can heat up in March, that could be huge for San Diego State. “It’s a dream come true.”, said Trammell, who began his career in Divison II. He added that, “We’re not done yet.”, showing that the Aztecs are not content with just making it to the second weekend. After a stint on the bench, Furman sent Jalen Slawson back into the game, but he couldn’t avoid a foul. He yelled, “Oh my god!” after he fouled out before picking up a technical foul as he left the game. 

The Aztecs continued to control the game, especially by having far more success inside than the Paladins did. They slowly extended their lead, keeping the dagger deep in Furman’s chest. Even leading by 25 with two minutes left, San Diego State continued to fight for rebounds, drain three-pointers, and block Furman’s shots. Jared Bennett, a rarely-used senior, nailed a corner three to finish it off, putting the icing on the cake.

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It was a complete and utter demolition for the Aztecs. They held Furman to just 32% from the floor and 23.1% from beyond the arc. They had 16 more rebounds than the Paladins in the 23-point victory. While Furman hung in the game early, the superior Aztecs dispatched the plucky underdogs.

Micah Parrish had 16 off the bench, while Trammell, Butler, and Bradley all joined him in double figures. It was an performance that relied on the entire team to make plays, and they did exactly that.

It’ll be a much tougher test in Louisville on Friday, especially if San Diego State plays top-seeded Alabama. However, this team is battle-tested and resilient. Brian Dutcher will have his Aztecs ready. San Diego State’s defense always travels. If their offense can continue to perform like they did against the Paladins, the Aztecs are primed for a run in March.

“We’re gonna be hard to beat.”, said Dutcher post-game to his players. If they play like that, he is correct.

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