Viejas Arena- San Diego, California
San Jose State stepped into Viejas Arena, searching for their sixth win of the season.
The Spartans are statistically one of the worst teams in the nation. On the other hand, San Diego State is creeping up the conference standings and the national rankings. Statistically, they are one of the best in the country. The two programs’ reputations could not be further apart.
After the first ten minutes of the game, however, no one could tell.
The Spartans, who came within a Malachi Flynn three of beating the Aztecs last season, had a jump in their step as they went into the second media timeout, and the score tied 16-16. The Aztecs are known for the “I Believe” chant, but SJSU believed an upset was in the making.
At 11:39, the tide shifted in the Aztecs’ favor when Aguek Arop (AG), who has been suffering from vertigo. Within a span of a couple possessions, Arop had a steal, two layups, and got his hands on several other balls. Despite playing only six minutes in the first half, his heart and hustle ignited the Aztecs. He started a trend that would continue the rest of the night: he attacked the offensive glass.
“I think AG,” Jordan Schakel said, “when he came into the game, it was like a two point game or maybe it was even tied. He got a big steal. It says (in the box score) he only got five rebounds, but it felt like 20, honestly.”
Around the time AG checked into the game, the Spartans changed their defense to a 1-3-1 zone. Zones are notorious for allowing the opposition to collect offensive rebounds. SDSU had 26 offensive rebounds in the game. Impressively, it was SDSU frontcourt players Joshua Tomaic, Keshad Johnson, Nathan Mensah, and Aguek Arop who collected 23 of those rebounds. One of the reasons for the Aztec’s dominance tonight.
“We just tried to stay locked in.” Joshua Tomiac explained about the front court’s performance. “Do the job that we have to do – rebound and bring energy to the team. When it’s our turn to shoot, we will try to just put the ball in the basket. We know that we have to play at a pretty high level for the rest of the games. March is around the corner. It’s time to lock in.”
The other reason? Jordan Schakel was playing for the Aztecs. Much to the chagrin of the NBA scout in attendance, two of the players on the NBA radar, SDSU’s Matt Mitchell and SJSU’s Richard Washington, were late scratches to the game. It took much of the star power from the game, but it also allowed the lone star remaining to shine brightly.
SDSU outscored SJSU by 32 when Schakel was in the game. He filled up the stat sheet with 23 points, three steals, three rebounds, and he drew six fouls. However, more important than the numbers were all the little things that were not in the box score. All game, Schakel was boxing out bigger players, diving on the floor for loose balls, and showing the type of hustle characteristic of Aztec basketball.
“That’s what this program is built on – doing the little things.” Schakel said after the game. “You don’t win without the little things. It doesn’t matter how many points you score. You have to do everything right. I think it’s just contagious. … We all play like that. That’s why we expect success. ”
SDSU closed the first half on a 27-8 run, and the game was effectively over. Their win was the fifth conference win in a row by at least 25 points. No team in the NCAA has matched that feat in 20 years. The Aztecs accomplished this despite not shooting the ball particularly well from three. They only hit six three on the game, but more than made that up by hitting 27-of-35 free throws.
“We didn’t shoot it, like I’m used to shooting it, from three.” Coach Dutcher reflected. “Our percentage wasn’t what it has been. I think that was probably more of an anomaly than anything else. I think we’ll shoot the ball well against zone. I was happy with the looks we were getting, we just weren’t making enough of them. Overall, I was pleased with our performance.”
San Diego State and San Jose State are scheduled to tip-off again on Wednesday night. Tip time is once again scheduled for 8 pm.