Moby Gymnasium, Fort Collins, Colorado
The San Diego State men’s basketball team opened the new year with CSU at their hands Tuesday night. The team performed well just south of its disastrous game last week in Laramie against Wyoming.
The Aztecs entered the contest with a 9-4 record after bouncing back with a satisfying twenty-point victory at home against Utah State. Colorado State entered the night 8-7 after defeating San Jose State 59-52 last Saturday. Tuesday night was SDSU’s third game since beginning play in the Mountain West Conference. At this point, all of the conference games are paramount for SDSU if they want a chance to win the Mountain West or get any sort of bid into the NCAA tournament in March.
Playing in the confines of Moby Arena is a formidable task for visiting teams. Ask any of the top teams in the Mountain West. If a CSU Rams player found the same success against the Aztecs as Hayden Dalton did for Wyoming, who knows what the outcome could have been tonight.
San Diego State’s defense stifled the Rams as they held CSU to a 40.3 shooting percentage from the field. The Rams three-point shooting helped keep them within striking for the majority of this game inside their home gym. The Aztecs needed a quality night shooting the basketball and lots of free throw attempts where they typically punish teams if they wanted a comfortable win. SDSU executed its game plan on both ends of the floor tonight and was the superior team, winning by a score of 77-68.
The Aztecs’ deep lineup and balanced roster was an important aspect of tonight’s win as four different players finished in double-digit scoring. The exciting back and forth matchup ended with the Aztecs on top in the Colorado altitude after hitting clutch shots with the time winding down in the second half.
The first half was very balanced as both teams shot under 40 percent. Redshirt freshman forward Jalen McDaniels had the best night of his career and was the star in the first half as well as the rest of the game, collecting 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. Prentiss Nixon led CSU with nine points and four rebounds for the Rams in the first half. San Diego State was clearly the better team in the categories of rebounding and free throw shooting, grabbing 45 rebounds compared to CSU’s 32, and also shot 66.7 percent from the field compared to 58.8 percent for CSU. The first half was a sample of how often these two teams are caught in a close game in the schools’ histories. After the Aztecs win tonight, they tied the all-time series between SDSU and CSU at 41-41.
The major turning points of this exciting contest came in the second half when the Aztecs had a chance to pull away. Devin Watson hit a monumental three-pointer to give the Aztecs a 60-57 lead with just a little over seven minutes left in the game. After that moment, it looked as though the game was in the hands of the black and red team from San Diego for the rest of the game. The Oceanside native, Watson continued his excellent season with another stellar performance, collecting 11 points, five assists, and two rebounds in just 23 minutes.
The Rams only had 11 turnovers on the night and forced 16 Aztecs turnovers, which led to many of their big shots in the second half. Jeremiah Paige led all players in scoring with 22 points on the night as he, without question, came close to leading the Rams to an essential upset over SDSU. Senior guard Trey Kell was very quiet for most of the game, until the second half, when he finished a spectacular drive on the baseline with the foul to give SDSU a 68-63 lead with a little over two minutes left. Anthony Bonner played nearly the whole game for CSU and was brilliant, chipping in 13 points to go along with two assists and two steals.
Malik Pope is a major key to the Aztecs’ formula for success this season as he was unable to find his mark until the second half when he took over. With a number of NBA scouts in attendance, it’s a good thing Pope finally found his stride as he finished the night with eight points (all but two came in the second half) along with nine rebounds and three blocks. Junior guard Jeremy Hemsley put on another quality performance, going 5-8 from the field for 13 points in 19 minutes. His talent is oftentimes obscured as he isn’t considered the star of the team, but brings so much more to this team than some fans realize. The 6 foot 3 junior guard won Mountain West Freshman of the Year two years ago and should continue to climb the ranks of the guards in the Mountain West.
Trey Kell proved yet again how much he brings to the San Diego State basketball team. The senior leadership and experience he brings to the table as one of the starting guards cannot be replicated anywhere else on the roster. Kell hit a crucial three-pointer with 58 seconds remaining that was a dagger to the Rams upset chances, putting San Diego State up 71-66 over the Rams. At that point, the Aztecs finally had some breathing room before knocking down free throws and closing out the victory in the final seconds. Clutch shots down the stretch, a balanced scoring attack, and McDaniel’s career night were the ingredients for the Aztecs gritty road win in the Colorado altitude. The SDSU basketball team won their first game of 2018, tying BYU at fourth place in the Mountain West, and will continue their season at home on January 9th against the San Jose State Spartans.