Aztecs undone by Lucas and the Pack
A heavyweight fight in the Mountain West lived up to the billing.
Matt Bradley and Jarod Lucas dueled all night. San Diego State and Nevada went back and forth all night. Nevada stayed perfect at home with a 75-66 win, knocking off a ranked opponent for the second time in eight days. In gut-wrenching fashion, the Aztecs lost for the second time in conference play, sending the Mountain West title race into a frenzy. Lucas put up 26, Will Baker had 19, and Kenan Blackshear had 18 more, as the Aztecs could do nothing to stop the Wolfpack’s big three.
“We played well enough in stretches to stay in the game, but we didn’t play well enough to win the game.”, Brian Dutcher said, who was critical of the Aztecs’ mistakes while also praising Lucas’ strong performance.
Bradley started the game with seven points in the first four minutes, with a quick 8-0 run, propelling San Diego State to a 11-4 lead. However, the Aztecs momentum was stopped when Darrion Trammell and Lucas came together after Kenan Blackshear stole the ball from Trammell. Trammell threw a shoulder into Lucas, which sent him to the floor. Trammell was given an early technical foul, but it was ruled a flagrant one-foul, which meant he was not ejected.
After the scuffle, momentum swung to Nevada, who went on a 10-1 run, which sent them back into the lead. The Wolf Pack relied heavily on Lucas and Blackshear, as the two combined for the first 16 points for Nevada. While Lucas and Blackshear were lighting up the score sheets, the Aztecs went 8:11 between field goals, scoring just three points from the charity stripe in the process. After getting off the schneid, San Diego State scored on five of their next six trips up the floor. Matt Bradley sat on the bench after his hot start, but his return sparked the struggling Aztec offense. The Aztecs were forced to play much of their first half without Lamont Butler, who typically leads the crime, as he picked up two early fouls. On the floor, he struggled as well, going 0-for-4 from the field. Butler wasn’t the only one in foul trouble, as Micah Parrish had three while Trammell had two.
Despite a first half in which the Aztecs, outside of Matt Bradley, struggled, the Aztecs found themselves up two at half. Only three Nevada players, Blackshear, Lucas, and Will Baker, scored in the first half, as San Diego State held the Wolf Pack to just 37% from the floor. The Aztecs also made 10 of their 11 free throws, a welcome sight for San Diego State, who made under 60% of their free throws in their win over San Jose State.
The second half started with a 12-3 spurt for the Wolf Pack, which finally ended as Jaedon LeDee sunk a fadeaway as the shot clock expired. The next trip up the court, LeDee laid it in again as the shot clock hit 0. Lamont Butler put in a three for his first points of the game before Aguek Arop tied the game at 42 apiece. After Nevada looked like they might run away with the game in the second half, San Diego State’s 11 points in five trips up the floor settled them down, bringing them right back into it.
The Aztecs played extended minutes with their bench players in, allowing them to pivot back to Bradley, Trammell, Nathan Mensah, and Kesha’s Johnson with ten minutes to play. The Aztecs got 25 points from their bench in the first thirty-five minutes, while Nevada got one. San Diego State’s ability to rely on their bench and keep the game close while doing so was crucial, giving some tired legs much-needed rest.
As the Aztecs and Wolf Pack traded punches like heavyweight boxers, alternating between slim leads and ties. Nevada snuck into a two-point lead, only for Bradley to nail a three-pointer with Tre Coleman all over him to put the Aztecs back ahead. Lucas’ 20th point of the night put the Wolf Pack back ahead as the clock ticked below four minutes remaining.
While Bradley cooled off in the final minutes, the dominant Lucas stayed hot, pushing Nevada into a five-point lead with under two minutes to play. With San Diego State down five with a minute to play, Mensah was tied up. The possession arrow pointed to Nevada, putting the Aztecs shiny new #22 rank on life support.
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The Aztecs, yet again, showed their struggles in clutch scenarios. The Aztecs were outplayed thoroughly. They committed five more fouls and turned the ball over five more times than the Wolf Pack. “It’s a good team we lost to, and we made to many mistakes to win this game.”, Dutcher said after the game. It was a disappointing performance for the Aztecs, one that will lead to a lot of questions coming into a massive game against Boise State on Friday night.
The Aztecs are tied with the Broncos atop the Mountain West, with Nevada sitting a game back.
Sam is a Senior in High School. He has been writing for three years, and started at EVT in June of 2021. He’s headed to Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications in the fall of 2023.