Viejas Arena- San Diego, California
Slow starts have been the story of the season so far for SDSU.
In the first three games the Aztecs played, it took 5-10 minutes for the offense to get going each time, regardless of whether the opponent was a top 25 team, middle of the road team, or a D-3 team. Sunday afternoon started the same way.
Pepperdine came to Viejas in a game that was scheduled to replace the canceled series vs. Colorado State. The Waves came ready to make a statement against the best team in southern California. The Aztecs, by comparison, looked like they forgot the game was on the schedule until right before tip-off.
Eight minutes into the game, the Aztecs had only scored three points on 1-for-7 shooting and had committed seven turnovers. At the half, Pepperdine was shooting 52% from the field. The Aztecs, a lowly 36%. Pepperdine was getting open three-pointers, while the Aztecs struggled to get open looks and missed the ones they got. When they were fortunate enough to draw contact and get to the free-throw line, they still missed their shots, shooting only 38% from the charity stripe at the half. They went to halftime down 34-20.
As the second half started, the Aztecs came out with more energy. They were flying around the floor in their typical fashion. For all their effort after the first four minutes, they were down 16 instead of 14. It seemed like the basketball gods themselves wanted SDSU to lose.
Then the Aztecs turned up their defensive intensity, starting forcing turnovers, and running in transition. The shots still weren’t falling, but they drew contact seemingly every time down the court. The Aztecs went on an 18-2 run and took the lead on an and-1 layup from Schakel.
Aztecs take the lead with Jordan's free-throw make. pic.twitter.com/pQUsZgTmHL
— San Diego State Men's Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) December 6, 2020
They never lost the lead after that.
Coach Dutcher praised the defensive effort in the second half. “I said it from the start… we are going to win games with our defense… That’s what happened tonight, we could not do anything offensively, but our defense kept us in the game.”
The final score, 65-60 Aztecs. They did it again. They found a way to overcome a slow start, this one being the most severe of the season. The Aztecs overcame a 16 point deficit, the first time they’ve done that since last year’s game against Iowa.
Jordan Schakel led the effort with 17 points on 6-12 shooting and 5 rebounds. Mitchell contributed 13 and 5, and Tomaić showed out again with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, and three steals.
The Aztec’s next game is on the road against the #25 Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday, December 10th.