The San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team looked to end their non-conference schedule on a high note against a cross-town rival, residing just 19 miles away, in the UC San Diego Tritons.
The Scarlet and Black were able to come into this one with fresh legs coming off of the team’s longest break of the season so far, getting a little over a week break, giving them time to finish up their academic semester.
The last time these two San Diego ball clubs matched up was on December 22, 2021, when forward Jake Kosakowski caught fire, scoring his then-career-high with 18 points. UCSD is coming off a 36-point point win against one of Aztecs’ former opponents, Occidental College, and held the Tigers to two fewer points than Coach Dutcher’s crew allowed. San Diego native, Bryce Pope, put up 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, making it his fifth game, scoring at least 20 points this season.
According to Kenpom, SDSU’s opponents up to this point have ranked 19th nationally in adjusted offense with five Kenpom Tier A contests in the 2022-2023 season. With this matchup, the level of competition dropped, with the Tritons coming in as the number 307th-ranked team in the nation, according to Sagarin Ratings.
Jaedon LeDee earned his first start of the season with former Mountain West defensive player of the year, Nate Mensah, coming off of the bench temporarily with a non-covid-related illness. Off the bench this season, LeDee came into this one tied for fourth in points per game, he regularly showed his capability as a reliable source of offense when he gets to touch the floor.
The Aztec starters, with Ledee protecting the paint, came out rejuvenated. After a slow start to the ballgame, Darrion Trammell got the ball rolling, getting a steal and going coast to coast finishing through contact on the left-handed layup. Lamont Butler, with a three from the top of the key, pushed the Aztecs to a 7-0 lead to start. The week off for the Aztecs had shown to be beneficial, with SDSU forcing five early turnovers and not allowing a basket through the first four minutes of the game.
With UCSD looking to find a way to get on the scoreboard after the first official TV timeout, LeDee and the Aztecs maintained their effort on both sides of the court, dominating on the glass and getting good offensive possessions. Micah Parrish got the crowd on its feet and gave some momentum to the team with a crossover sending his defender to the floor and knocking down the shot after making the lead 16-2.
With everything going right for the home team, Triton coach Eric Olen showed visible frustration with the effort and lack of focus his team was showing.
LeDee’s effort could not go unnoticed. He filled up the stat sheet in the first half while only scoring one field goal. He ended his first half as a starter with two points, six rebounds, and two assists, with three of those rebounds coming on the offensive end in a single possession.
Jake Kosakowski put the Tritons in double digits with one of the only four made three-point attempts for the Tritons. SDSU held a 19-point lead over UCSD winning 35-16 with almost a double-digit difference in rebounds between the two. UCSD ended the half shooting 22% from the field while losing ten offensive possessions to turnovers. The only form of success seeming to come for the Tritones was when they were able to get one of the undersized Aztec guards to switch onto one of their big men and force them to foul or give up a layup.
The second half started with a slow pace, similar to the first, with neither team getting points on the board until about four minutes into the half. UCSD’s freshman starter, Robbie Anderson III, got the first points of the half, followed by a made jumper by Bryce Pope as the Tritons tried to get back into the game.
The Aztecs started this half similar to the first, with a scoring drought missing open shots through the first five minutes back in action. After another steal by Trammell, the Aztecs were finally able to second-half points on the board with his no-look assist to the trailing Micah Parrish.
UCSD continued to fight but with Nate Mensah forcing UCSD’s Emmanuel Tshimanga to pick up his fourth foul with 13:10 left to play, it was difficult for them to get within a 19-point deficit they went into halftime with.
The Scarlet and Black struggled to score as easily after halftime but kept up the defensive intensity. When asked about the offensive dropoff from the first half to the second, Dutcher credited the unnecessary number of second-half turnovers.
In addition, he said “we have to finish at the rim. We got to the rim, but there were not a lot of free throws shot today. So the refs really let each team play, and you had to finish if you were gonna score there. There weren’t many free throws taken by either team.”
The Aztecs seemed to put the game away early, going on a 16-5 run early in the second half, which included a rare jump shot from Mensah, stretching the lead out to 51-25 with 10 minutes left to play.
Darrion Trammell played one of his best games in an Aztec uniform, putting up 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Trammell ended the first half scoring the last nine points for the Aztecs from dropping in three long-range buckets from deep.
He looked to be back to his normal self after tending to a hamstring injury that has not kept him from seeing the court but affected his play.
Trammell stated, “ I had to monitor it and just cut down as far as what I was doing outside of practice and in games.” He followed up by saying, “I couldn’t go to the gym as much and overwork it as it’s trying to heal, but I mean, I got through it, and I feel like I’m in a good spot now.”
Despite only scoring two points on one for seven from the field, LeDee’s motor helped him pick up the slack on the defensive end with their starting center dealing with illness. His ferociousness on the glass was constant, and he ended with two points, 12 rebounds, and three assists, with Mensah noticeably playing under the weather.
Coach Dutcher said, “Nate obviously hasn’t practiced in a week,” following up by saying, “we need to get him back into rhythm. We have to play inside out at some point.”
Despite entering the first half with a 19-point lead and uncharacteristically shooting 46% from three, UCSD outscored SDSU in the second half 30-27.
The Aztecs got complacent and turned the ball over nine times in the second half while being held to 30% from the field after the halftime break. The Tritons were able to bring it to a 16-point deficit, with SDSU’s freshman getting some playing time but could not find offense outside of Bryce Pope, who poured 18 second-half points shooting 9-17 for the game.
Despite not playing up to par in the second half, the Aztecs ended the game with a 62-46 victory, the Aztecs’ second-lowest scoring total throughout this season’s non-conference schedule. The group will get another extended break over the holidays and will come back after Christmas with three days to prepare for a matchup against the Air Force, their first conference opponent.