8:59 pm was the official tip time between San Diego State and Georgetown Thursday.
Starting the game a minute before midnight on the east coast allowed ESPN to advertise the matchup as a Thanksgiving Day tussle between schools located 2,618 miles away from each other. Organizers of the Wooden Classic clearly wanted the Aztecs and USC Trojans to meet in the championship game of the tournament. Instead of pitting the schools that had to travel across the country to play in the early game, they chose to split them up, leaving the Hoyas to play at a less than advantageous time. Aside from Dante Harris and Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown played like they were asleep most of the night.
For the third consecutive game, Brian Dutcher ran out a starting lineup of Trey Pulliam, Lamont Butler, Matt Bradley, Keshad Johnson, and Nathan Mensah. Oddly, Bradley wore Demarshay Johnson’s number 11 jersey, complete with the true freshman’s name on the back. Dutcher came into the game seeking his 100th career win as an Aztec head coach. Cheering the Aztecs on was a large contingent of fans who made the trip up from San Diego.
Whatever was served at the team’s Thanksgiving meal, it cured the Aztecs’ offensive woes in the first half. The opening score of the game came off a three from Butler that bounced around the rim a handful of times. State opened the game 4-6 from the field, but a pair of turnovers limited their scoring to only nine points at the first television timeout. The game was knotted at nine with 15:31 left.
Over the next five minutes, Georgetown opened a four-point lead 21-17 behind Mohammed and Harris. All 21 of the Hoyas’ points came from the duo. When they went out of the game, however, the Hoyas had trouble scoring. The Aztecs responded with a 9-2 spurt behind a bucket and two free throws from K. Johnson, a three by Bradley, and a put-back off an offensive rebound by Aguek Arop. SDSU held a 26-23 lead with 7:17 left in the half. Bradley led SDSU with nine points.
Following a Georgetown timeout, Harris picked up where he left off. The teams exchanged baskets. Tahirou Diabate was a spark off the bench for SDSU. He poured in eight points and played extended minutes with Nathan Mensah on the bench with two fouls. At the under four-minute timeout in the first half, SDSU clung to a 30-28 lead.
A long three from Trey Pulliam as the shot clock expired extended State’s lead to five, but Harris responded as he had the entire half with another jumper. SDSU held a slim 33-30 lead with 90 seconds left in the half. SDSU ended the half like a dream.
Two easy scores off inbounds plays under their own basket – the first a layup by K. Johnson and the second a jumper by Adam Seiko – opened a seven-point lead. Harris had another answer on a layup. The Hoyas guard set a season-high in the first half alone with 16 points. The final bucket of the half was a near mirror of the first basket of the game. A well-designed wrinkle left Seiko open for a three as time expired, and another kind roll gave SDSU a 40-32 lead at the break.
The soft rims aided the Aztecs three-ball. They shot 4-8 at the half. Bradley led the team with eleven points. Pulliam had six assists at the break. SDSU held an overall rebound advantage of three. The teams were tied with nine-second chance points. Georgetown shot 45.5% from the field. The Aztecs scored on 54.8% of their attempts.
Bradley opened the half with a long two, and Butler poked a ball free and layed it up on the other end pushed the Aztecs’ lead to 12. The game was in danger of slipping away like most of America did following their Thanksgiving meal, but a quick 7-0 run shrunk the spread to only five.
Butler responded with a three as the shot clock was running down and another runout layup, this time off a strip by Pulliam, and the suddenly up tempo game saw SDSU up 49-39 with the ball at the first tv timeout. Out of the timeout, Butler hit another three. It was the third out-of-bounds play that SDSU turned into immediate points. Butler, who had three points in the first half, quickly raised his number to 13 with his tenth point of the second half, which was tied with Bradley for the team lead.
“Lamont Butler, his progression on both sides of the ball has been great,” assistant coach Dave Velasquez said postgame. “He has three steals and got his hands on seven or eight balls. … Lamont’s in that gym as much as anyone.”
Off a Butler steal, Keith Dinwiddie missed a contested layup, but Arop pulled the ball out of the air and dunked the putback. Harris responded with a bucket, but Pulliam kept SDSU rolling with a buzzer-beating runner. Through the 12-2 run, SDSU got their hands on numerous passes, blocked shots, and played with great energy. Georgetown played sleepy. As the crowd chanted S-D-S-U, the Aztecs pushed their lead to 56-44.
Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing tried to wake up his team by extending their defense full court. It worked. Behind five free throws, an alley-oop pass from Donald Carey to Jalin Billingsley, and a layup by Mohammed, the Hoyas went on a 9-1 run. Suddenly, the game was 57-53, with Ewing begging the Georgetown faithful who made the trip to get off their feet and cheer.
Pulliam, like a true point guard, stopped the run with a jumper from the elbow. A long rebound off a missed three by Harris led to a runout by K. Johnson. Channeling a former rival of Hoyas head coach, Dominique Wilkins, K. Johnson flushed home a windmill dunk. The momentum had swung back to the Aztecs. The Hoyas called a timeout down 61-53 with 7:39 left in the game.
Out of the timeout, Georgetown missed a three. Dinwiddie getting extended minutes did not. He hit an in-rhythm triple to push State’s run to 7-0 and give the Aztecs an eleven-point lead. A few possessions later, Dinwiddie rewarded Dutcher for keeping him in the game by drawing a savvy charge. A pair of free throws and a bucket by Bradley plus two free throws by Mensah pushed the lead to 70-54 with 3:59 remaining. SDSU had all but put the Hoyas to bed.
The final stretch of the game was uneventful as the Hoyas hoisted up bad shots and SDSU ran out the clock until Butler made a sensational spin move and scored with just over a minute remaining. It put the sophomore’s point total to 15. He added one more free throw to reach a career-high 16. The Hoyas failed to score a field goal the final 9:39 of the game. As Dutcher emptied his bench, SDSU finished out the Hoyas, who will be happy to be a short bus ride away from some shut-eye.
It was the kind of victory that should give hope to the potential of this team. Bradley paced the squad with 18 points and seven rebounds. Pulliam had eight assists. Mensah added four blocks. With the win, the Aztecs moved to the finals of the Wooden Legacy. They play #24 USC at 8:30 pm tomorrow.
“When you’re at SDSU, you have a huge chip on your shoulder,” Velasquez said. “When you wear ‘SDSU’ on your chest, you have to earn the right to play in a tournament like this. … We have absolutely earned that right. … Our togetherness was off the chart tonight.”