House and The Pit too much for SDSU to overcome in 88-70 loss

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

The rise of SDSU as a basketball power can be described in several ways. Among them is looking at the program’s performance on the road in New Mexico.

All-time, the Aztecs have left the raucous environment of The Pit victorious just 13 times in 43 attempts heading into Saturday afternoon’s clash. From January 2, 1976, to February 6, 2010, SDSU’s record in Albuquerque was a dismal 7-25. Since 2011, they have a 6-5 record against UNM in the Land of Enchantment.

Even an hour before tip, the arena and fanbase’s reputation as one of the top environments in sports was evident. The fans responded to the university’s designs with sections alternating between red and white. From pregame introductions, boos rained down each time SDSU took or exited the court with ringing the residue of their vocal barrage when it ceased.

“The atmosphere was great,” head coach Brian Dutcher said postgame. “It’s like every atmosphere we play in. We play in sold-out BYU, sold-out Grand Canyon, sold-out UCSD, sold-out Pit, so this is what we’re used to. It’s hard to communicate with your team. It makes a difference. That’s what people face when they come to Viejas, a sold-out arena, and it makes it hard to play in.”

The action favored the visitors early, as it did for much of the first half. With Jaedon LeDee the center of the Aztecs’ attack, there was a logic to the spacing and distribution of the ball. The attention UNM gave the All-American candidate provided an orbit for the rest of the players to work around.

Lamont Butler started the game’s scoring with a layup created by LeDee’s presence. Butler added a pair of free throws, Elijah Saunders cleaned up a miss for a layup, LeDee made a jumper, Jay Pal flushed a slam home, and Miles Byrd made another second-chance attempt to account for the first 12 points for the Aztecs.

The contest was knotted up at a dozen with 14:20 left to play. SDSU had weathered the initial burst for the home team provided by the energy of playing in The Pit.

Over the next 8:34 of game time, on the back of a 23-11 run, the Aztecs raced ahead by 12, 35-23. The spurt culminated with a three by Reese Waters. As the UNM crowd grew quieter, Byrd made a thunderous dunk and a three, and Saunders added a three of his own. Darrion Trammell ignited the stretch with a pair of layups and a wide-open three.

Following a bucket to bring the game to ten, UNM star Jaelen House pleaded with the home crowd to get on their feet. They responded. As they erupted, House made a clean steal of Trammell’s dribble and converted an uncontested layup. The sequence started a 17-2 run by the UNM to finish the half. They led, heading into intermission 40-37.

“We might have turned the ball over three or four times,” Byrd explained about this portion of the game. “We talked a lot as a team. We can’t turn the ball over against these guys. They do a really good job of getting back in transition. That’s what they did. They made it count.”

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

At intermission, Trammell paced the team with nine points. LeDee and Saunders had five. Waters had five rebounds to lead the team. LeDee only shot 2-7 from the field. Much of that had to do with UNM’s 11 blocked shots in the opening 20 minutes.

UNM picked up where it left off to start the second half. The Lobos extended their lead to seven over the first few possessions. During that stretch, Butler, Waters, and Micah Parrish all picked up their third fouls.

With the momentum squarely in the home team’s favor, House tried to draw Parrish’s fourth foul by hooking his arm and bringing him to the ground as they battled for a rebound. To their credit, the refs saw the infraction, checked the monitor, and correctly upgraded the personal foul to a flagrant.

They showed the play on the boards in The Pit while the refs looked at the monitors. Seeing the game with Lobo-colored eyes, the gathered supporters booed in protest when they saw the replay. They erupted when Parrish was awarded foul shots.

Parrish calmly hit both flagrant free throws to bring the Aztecs back within three. After an SDSU miss on the ensuing possession, as he had in the first half, House implored the crowd to raise the noise level.

Over the next five minutes, the teams traded baskets. With each made shot, House’s antics increased. When he knocked in a three to increase the lead to 56-50 with 12:43 left, he came back on defense with “ok signs” over his eyes, hopping up and down. On UNM’s next trip, Trammell was whistled for an on-the-floor block, but House to the NBA extra step and made the layup. To the joy of the Lobo crowd, pumped his fist mimicking the “and-one” calls.

House’s emotion had their desired impact. Byrd hooked and held a Lobo for a flagrant foul. Following another UNM make to push the lead to eight, the refs whistled Pal and a Lobo for double technicals. New Mexico made both of their attempts; Trammel made one.

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A few possessions later, looking to extend a 62-51 lead, House once again pleaded for applause. Through the thunderous sound of cheering, he calmly hit a jumper to give UNM its largest lead at 13. With the game slipping out of reach, SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher called a timeout.

“Just we have enough time,” Dutcher said of his message at that moment. “I think we were down 12 last year, maybe 14 last year in the second half, and came back and won the game. It’s a game of runs. We just could not get a run and stop enough of theirs to get back into the game. As the margin grows, the basket looks bigger. Shots they weren’t making early in the game when you’re 18 or 16 ahead, the basket looks like an ocean. Everything goes in.”

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

Out of the timeout, LeDee made the prettiest move of the afternoon. He took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled to his left, spun across the defender’s body, and scooped a layup for a score.

The basket, though, only stopped the Lobos’ onslaught momentarily. With House on the bench, UNM extended its lead to 16, 70-54 at the media timeout with 7:01 left in the game. The contest went into that break with the prospect of LeDee shooting two free throws, but during the pause, the refs ruled the infraction occurred after the shot clock ran out. The Pit hit a frenzied level when the PA announced the correction.

The crowd’s crescendo occurred to Jamal Mashburn hit a three to push the lead even further. As the Lobos set up for defense, House pumped his arms to the fans yet again. The final five minutes of the contest turned into a party for the Albuquerque faithful. With the win comfortably in hand, House hit a corner three. He raised his right hand and performed a popular dance move. The Lobos fans watched him “Dougie” with glee.

With the game a blowout, House took exception to a hard fall by Butler and jumped up into Parrish’s face. The refs had to separate them. Double technicals were called. Chants of “overrated” filled the arena as the refs confirmed their decision. As House checked out of the game with a minute remaining, he implored the crowd one final time.

“He’s a dynamic player,” Dutcher said about House. “He’s quick and aggressive, a very good player. If he continues to play at that level, New Mexico will have a great successful season.”

Following a sloppy end to the game that had turned into a blowout, SDSU fell to UNM 88-70. The Lobos evened the series 6-6 over the last twelve games. The Aztecs fell to 14-3 on the year and 3-1 in the conference. They return home on Wednesday to face Nevada on Wednesday at 8 pm.

“Hats off to the Lobos,” Dutcher added. “They did what they were supposed to do. They held homecourt in the Mountain West. We’re going to have an NBA mentality, we’re going to learn from it, put it behind us, (and) get ready for Nevada in our next game.”

LeDee finished with a team-high 15 points. Byrd poured in 13 in the losing effort. Tramell finished with 12. The key for the Lobos was 14 offensive rebounds that led to a plus-ten rebounding margin, eight steals, 14 blocks, and a nine-attempt advantage in free throws.

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