The San Diego State men’s basketball team, much like a spoiled three-year-old, did not want to share.
Their dramatic win at New Mexico had assured them a share of the Mountain West title. However, they missed the chance to wrap up the whole thing in a disappointing loss to Boise State on Tuesday. Those Broncos could have split the league championship with a win and an Aztecs’ loss against Wyoming.
Shortly before halftime, the Broncos fell in Logan, guaranteeing the Aztecs would stand alone. That didn’t stop San Diego State’s stout defense, though. SDSU shut down Wyoming in the 67-50 win.
Aguek Arop, who is a team leader and one of the hardest workers in college basketball, got the start for his senior night. On the Aztecs’ first possession, he secured two offensive rebounds and got a layup by doing what he always does, outworking and out-hustling everyone. San Diego State started out the game with a 7-0 run, keeping Wyoming scoreless for the first 4:23 of the matchup.
However, the Cowboys scored eight points on their next three possessions, cutting the lead to just one with 14 minutes left in the half. The Aztecs responded by locking down Wyoming again, forcing another lengthy scoring drought. In the first 13:24 of the game, the Cowboys had droughts of 4:23 and 7:22. The latter drought allowed the Aztecs to go on a 10-0 run, blowing the game open. Wyoming made just three of their first 16 shots as the Aztecs raced to a 24-10 lead.
With under four minutes remaining, Wyoming’s poor shooting and lack of ability to corral rebounds continued. The Aztecs outmuscled defenders, earning eight offensive rebounds and scoring 10 second-chance points in the first half. Jaedon LeeDee had a monster start, scoring 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting while adding three rebounds.
Both teams struggled to start the second half, as each made just one field goal in the first five minutes. The Aztecs continued to shut down Hunter Maldonado, who leads Wyoming in scoring. Maldonado went just 1-for-11 from the floor, putting up only three points.
Adam Seiko had his senior night moment, as the all-time program wins leader scored eight points on three trips up the floor. Those three baskets propelled San Diego State to a 50-31 lead with 11:30 remaining. The sellout crowd was enjoying themselves as the Aztecs, outright Mountain West champions for the eighth time, were well on their way to capping the regular season with a comfortable win.
Physicality continued to be the name of the game for the Aztecs, who had 12 more rebounds than the Cowboys while setting a season-high with nine blocks. With ten minutes remaining, San Diego State was twisting the knife in Wyoming’s chest.
Nathan Mensah sent a ball deep into the student section, rejecting Jeremiah Oden’s shot. Micah Parrish and LeeDee ran a beautiful pick and roll to get LeeDee his 21st point of the night. Matt Bradley nailed a deep three as the shot clock expired, and Viejas Arena exploded. Brian Dutcher stood and smiled. His Aztecs had done everything right to win his third regular season championship.
Matt Bradley called his corner three a “representation of his time here, making and taking tough shots.”
The fans calmly joined in a celebration on the court. With it being the third in four years, the seniors were beginning to get bored of league titles.
Okay, that wasn’t quite the case. Still, this has become a very regular event for the Aztecs. “Regular season titles are always the hardest to win.”, said coach Dutcher after the game. He added that he was “Happy to get one (title) for Matt (Bradley), Darrion (Trammell), and Jaedon (LeeDee).”., who all won their first career outright conference championship.
As the bench players closed the game out for the Aztecs, the fans celebrated, nets were cut down, and a trophy was lifted. However, there was a sense of incompleteness. Despite all their regular season success, the Aztecs have not won in March Madness since beating St. John’s in 2015.
They’ll celebrate and enjoy tonight, but this team was built with the goal of winning in March. In a fortnight’s time, we’ll know if this team did that.
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.