SDSU matched Brian Dutcher’s energy in win over Fresno State

Brian Dutcher made sure his players were ready to play against Fresno State. (Don De Mars/EVT)

More than just complaining to the refs, Brian Dutcher coached with passion against Fresno State. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Every contest is an opportunity. Wednesday night’s opponent, Fresno State, offered more to SDSU than most teams, hovering around .500.

The Aztecs came into the game winners of eight straight against the Bulldogs. But SDSU failed to cover the spread in each victory and the last three were decided by just nine total points.

Prior to Wednesday night, Fresno State’s last visit to Viejas was a Senior Night, double-overtime thriller in 2022. Matt Bradley made two free throws with 2:17 left to provide the 65-64 margin of victory as neither team scored over the final 137 seconds of the game.

That iteration of the rivalry, or the 45-43 slugfest last year, showed the type of game that awaited the Aztecs in their first opportunity since defeating Gonzaga. From the tip, Fresno State played physical, contested every drive, and competed with a toughness fit for a squad led by Steve Fisher disciple, Justin Hutson.

“Justin Hutson’s a very good coach,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said following the Aztecs 74-47 victory. “When you have a margin like this, you lose sight of that. But they defend at a high level. There’s a reason we only scored (45) points last year. They guard us at a really high level. Today, we executed well. We ran our stuff really at a high level, and we made open shots.”

SDSU’s superior skill was evident throughout. They were better at passing, dribbling, and shooting. As history has shown, to tame the Bulldogs, however, the Aztecs needed more. They needed heart and grit.

Coming off an emotional high following the team’s lopsided victory over Gonzaga, a potential letdown could have been in order. Dutcher refused to let that happen. He brought his own energy to Viejas Arena.

Miles Byrd blocks a shot. The defensive effort was superb on Wednesday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Dutcher is far from inactive on the sidelines on most nights, but his animation was at a fever pitch all evening. He jumped, screamed, and swung his arms at every foul call or mistake made. His voice frequently rose to the top of the Madhouse on the Mesa.

“It started in practice with Coach Dave (Velazquez),” Micah Parrish said when asked about how the team responded to Dutcher’s energy. “First game of conference, all the coaches were on edge, letting us know this is when the season starts. It’s important for us to win conference games, especially at the beginning of the conference when we got home games.”

Even as the contest got out of hand in the second half, Dutcher continued to coach with passion. When the refs called a questionable charge against Micah Parrish halfway through the second half, SDSU’s head man paced with his arms above his head in protest. The score was 62-34 at that time.

A few possessions later, with the Bulldogs on a mini 4-0 run, Darrion Trammell failed to beat the shot clock and turned the ball over. Dutcher showed his disdain demonstratively. In the next sequence of plays, Jaedon LeDee dove for a loose ball, Lamont Butler raced down court to prevent a fast break, and the rest of the team matched Dutcher’s intensity.

Players win games. Coaches prepare them to do so. Dutcher masterfully filled his role.

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Not only did he design a great game plan, but he also got his team emotionally ready to play. Since his elevation to head coach six seasons ago, he has distinguished himself as a recruiter, tactician, and leader. Wednesday night, he proved to be a great sports psychologist.

“It’s the conference opener, and we’re the defending champs until we’re not,” Dutcher explained about his mindset heading into the contest. “We know we’ve always got everyone’s best shot. And that has nothing to do with the Final Four run. That has something to do with, we’ve won more titles than anybody in the league by double.”

“And so we know we’re going to see everyone’s best effort. We’re the measuring stick. That comes with a lot of responsibility and preparing to play every game as hard as you can and as well as you can. And then, live with the results.”

Jaedon LeDee finishes a lob from Lamont Butler. (Don De Mars/EVT)

A quiet, dominating performance by Jaedon LeDee

Spending more time talking about the superlatives of Jaedon LeDee’s game is gratuitous at this point. Every time SDSU’s star has suited up, he has been the best player on the court. That continued Wednesday night. LeDee distinguished his performance against Fresno State in the way he dominated. He did it quietly.

The Houston, Texas, native finished with 21 points. Only two other Aztecs, Lamont Butler and Micah Parrish, reached double figures. They each had 11 in the winning effort. Amazingly, LeDee scored 15 of his total in under four minutes of game time.

Jaedon LeDee pulls up for a jumper. (Don De Mars/EVT)

With 3:38 left in the first half, Lamont Bulter found him for an alley-oop. LeDee followed that with a layup at 3:20, a fastbreak run out at 2:39, and a final layup with 1:20 left. Eight points in 138 seconds.

With 14:52 left in the game, LeDee scored a traditional 3-point play with a tremendous post spin that led to a foul. Two trips later, he made a right-handed jump hook. On the next possession, he took the ball at the top of the key and used a dribble to create space on his left for a smooth jumper. Seven points in just 91 seconds.

When LeDee went on his first scoring burst, SDSU led by 10. As he wrapped up his second, the Aztecs boasted a 24-point advantage. In between, the Aztecs went on a 29-15 run. LeDee scored as many points in 3 minutes and 49 seconds as Fresno State scored in 10:17.

“Jae is a difference maker,” Butler said postgame. “He creates a lot of tension just cause of his scoring prowess. He got it going in the second half a little bit more than in the first half. He’s always a threat on the court. We always know he’s going to get it going at some point. He was effective on defense as well.”

LeDee is currently having one of the most memorable seasons in program history. Wednesday, he was every bit as effective as he’s been all year. He shot a very efficient 9 of 12 from the field while only attempting only three foul shots. LeDee dominated Fresno. He just went about it quietly.

Quick Takes

– With the attention LeDee, Reese Waters, Micah Parrish, and Darrion Trammel command on the offensive end, Lamont Butler has never had more space to work with than this season. Butler did a great job utilizing that to create great looks for himself. His pull-up jumper at the elbow was lethal on Wednesday. It should be there all year with the scoring threats he has around him.

– Injuries are part of the game, but Waters (ankle) and Miles Byrd (turf toe) will be missed if they are out for an extended period. The two games a week conference format will test the Aztecs’ depth.

Elijah Saunders offensive game is very skilled. Here, he shoots a jump hook. (Don De Mars/EVT)

– Elijah Saunders’ development is fun to watch. His offensive skill set is elite. Wednesday, he made a three, drove and pulled up for a short hook shot, and hit a floater of sort on a broken play from the foul line. He’s already developed into a legit double-digit scoring threat with potential for much more.

– Micah Parrish paced the Aztecs with seven rebounds. Jay Pal had six. Postgame, Parrish said a big part of rebounding is luck because the ball must bounce in a player’s direction. As true as that is, SDSU needs that kind of board production from its wing players. They do not have the biggest team inside and need to rebound as a group.

– Fresno State resembled a poor man’s version of SDSU’s teams under Steve Fisher: long and athletic but limited offensively. As skilled of a coach as Justin Hutson is, his tenure with the Bulldogs shows how hard it is to win using Fisher’s formula. It’s also a reminder of how great of coach Fisher was.

– Miles Heide is growing into a good offensive rebounder. In his first 10 collegiate games, he had 11 of them. Over the past four contests, he’s had 12. While five of those came against St. Katherine, he had four against Stanford and a pair Wednesday night. His 23 offensive rebounds rank second on the team to LeDee’s 43. Heide’s rebounding numbers stand out because he averages just 10.5 minutes a game.

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