The San Diego State Aztecs showed up at the Las Vegas Invitational, not looking for much more than gaining some quality non-conference wins under their belt. When it was all said and done- They came away with the tournament championship.
On back to back nights, the team earned decisive victories over two nationally respected basketball programs in Creighton and Iowa. They beat Iowa by 11 and Creighton by 21. San Diego’s unrelenting determination was on display as they dominated their competition on both sides of the court. The Aztecs put the college basketball world on notice and stunned two teams from traditionally strong conferences. San Diego put on a clinic in how to close out a game and suffocate the hopes of their competition.
The last time the Aztecs reached the championship match of a November tournament was at the 2017 Wooden Legacy Final, which they lost 93-86 to Washington State and a familiar freshman. The Washington State Cougars were led by a player named Malachi Flynn, who sported a lovely red froe. As a freshman, Flynn dropped 24 points on the Aztecs and secured the tournament championship for WSU.
Just two season’s later in the Las Vegas Invitational Championship, Flynn won it again, but this time as an Aztec. He put down 28 points, earned tournament MVP and led San Diego to victory. At the end of the 2018 season, Flynn transferred to San Diego State and brought along his knack for scoring and composure on the court. He is the focal point of a re-tooled offense that barely resembles past SDSU teams that struggled to score. Flynn is a proven closer, and this time the Aztecs were thankful to have him on their side.
On Black Friday, the Aztecs faced off against Iowa. The Hawkeyes had just beat the twelfth ranked team in Texas Tech on the previous night and came in looking to establish lucrative positioning under the rim. The Aztecs two big men Yanni Wetzel and Nathan Mensah fought all night in a battle of hard fouls that ultimately tipped the balance in the game. The Aztecs started with an 8-4 lead, but Mensah got caught with a wild elbow to the jaw of Iowa’s center Luka Garza which added a flagrant foul on top of a shooting foul that culminated into an eight-point swing. With the lead in hand, Iowa controlled the first half, forced Aztec turnovers, and stretched their lead to sixteen. Jordan Schakel drained a late run of three-pointers to pull his team back within a nine-point deficit to 32-41 at halftime.
The Aztecs came out of the break and forced their way back into the game. Malachi Flynn led his team back on the floor, began to work the ball around the offense, and dumped it off for a series of quick buckets down low. As the Aztecs evened up the score, Flynn shot a confident three-pointer from four feet beyond the arc that sailed through the net and brought the San Diego bench to their feet. After an Iowa time out, Garza caught a pass down low while backing up against Mensah. His elbow got too close to Mensah’s chin, and the refs called another flagrant foul. The foul resembled the flagrant in the first, it was its circumstantial mirror-image, and the refs called it accordingly. The Aztecs scored their free throws with consistency, took the lead and never let it go.
Wetzell shot a decisive three-pointer that sparked an Aztec’ run. With about five minutes left, you could see the SDSU flags and hear the “coos’ from the fans imploring the defense to finish the job. The Aztecs shot a series of six floaters in a row, the first one went in, the next three missed, and Flynn hit the next two that sustained his scoring contribution of 28 second-half points. With fifty seconds left, Iowa drove toward the San Diego hoop only to be denied by Matt Mitchell, who brought the hammer down with a symbolic rejection that squashed the Hawkeye’s hopes. The Aztecs won 83-71 and earned the right to call themselves Las Vegas Invitational Champs.
The previous night SDSU punched their ticket to the championship match with an 83-52 win over Creighton from the Big East Conference. The Aztecs came out swinging and reached the halfway mark leading 40-25. The Aztecs defense aggravated the Creighton Blue Jays, and San Diego’s length down low just wore Creighton down. Flynn scored a searching bank-shot for three points and an errant alley-oop that found the bottom of the net. Mitchell’s 16 points off the bench helped the Aztecs to impose their will on the overwhelmed Blue Jays. San Diego was unstoppable, and they rode their scoring run to the season’s 8th victory.
On Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019, the Aztecs will open up Mountain West Conference play at Colorado State.
Last year, SDSU beat CSU 71-60 in Colorado, Matt Mitchell, and Nathan Mensah combined for seven points and were the only two current Aztecs to see minutes. The CSU Rams have a 5-3 record on the new season. They earned significant wins over Loyola Chicago and the Pac-12’s Washington State. The Aztecs are going into the Moby Arena, looking to secure their tenth win on the season and start Mountain West Conference competition with a win.
San Diego State vs. Colorado State. Tip-off is at 6 pm on Dec 3rd, 2019.