The No. 4 ranked San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team came back from a first-half deficit to beat Utah State in front of a sold-out Viejas Arena to claim their 23rd win and remain undefeated on the 2019-2020 season.
With Kawhi Leonard’s number retirement ceremony scheduled for half time, the Aztecs were determined to complete the perfect night with a dominant win.
Coach Dutcher explained to the media after the game about how his team overcame the deficit. “We were down eight at the half, and our mental toughness was great then too. We did what we always do: we find a hot hand, and we ride it,” Dutcher said.
Utah State tried its best to spoil the celebration by ending the first half with a 39-31 lead over San Diego. In the first half, SDSU had trouble scoring the ball. Utah State initially limited the Aztecs opportunities by the hoop. When San Diego tried to find their shooting rhythm from behind the 3-point line, they were denied. A combination of pre-game nerves and a stingy Utah State defense left the Aztecs looking bewildered in their search for offensive production.
During his half-time speech to a sold-out arena, Leonard thanked all of his influences during his collegiate career at San Diego State but left the crowd with one last call for concern “Thanks for coming to see my jersey get revealed, but we got another half to go,” Leonard said.
KJ Feagin came out from the locker room, lifting both arms, imploring the crowd to stand up, get loud, and make their presence felt. San Diego’s undefeated season was on the line, and there was a low-key uneasiness amongst the Aztecs nation. SDSU came out of the half with two consecutively missed 3-pointers and quickly sent Utah State to the free-throw line. Sam Merill scored both free-throws and pushed Utah State’s lead to 10 points. Aztecs’ junior Jordan Shackle took his next opportunity for an open shot, drained a 3-pointer, and the Aztecs used the momentum to claw their way back into the game.
Matt Mitchell led the Aztecs on a 19-to-8 run that was capped off by his third 3-pointer in a six-minute span, which put Aztecs up 50-49. In the next possession, Yanni Wetzell put an exclamation point on the comeback with a steal that he brought down the court for an open dunk with just over ten minutes in the second half. With the roar of the crowd behind them, the undefeated Aztecs dug in on defense and held Utah State to only 14 points in the games final 10 minutes. SDSU’s relentless effort on defense and propensity to find fruitful contributors on offense earned them the 80-68 victory over Utah State.
Mitchell, who scored 28 points on the night, spoke to the media after the game about what changed in the second half, “My teammates found me. I just felt like I was wide open sometimes. My teammates found me, that’s it, that’s all I have to say. I just put the ball in the hoop,” Mitchell said.
As the leader of the only undefeated team left in college basketball, coach Dutcher spoke with the media after the Utah State win and shared his outlook looking forward. “We’re going to fully prep for Air Force. We’re going to prep really hard because they are a hard guard, they run a Princeton offense, and they’re unique. But we’re going to give (the team) sometime off. We’ll take tomorrow- I don’t know the last time we’ve had a day off. Obviously, it doesn’t matter the day of the week, we work every day (even when they are given the NCAA regulation day off),” Dutcher said.
In their earlier matchup on Wednesday, the Aztecs took down New Mexico 85-57. SDSU held the Lobos scoreless with a 17-0 run to start the game. San Diego spread the offensive opportunities around with five different players scoring in double digits. KJ Feagin led the Aztecs with 18 points and went 6-for-9 from beyond the 3-point arc. San Diego secured its 22nd win of the season in the hostile Dreamstyle Arena, also known as The Pit, where New Mexico was previously unbeaten. In the post-game press conference, Mitchell spoke to the media about the defining factors that earned his Aztecs squad the away-win over New Mexico. “Along the way, if we need to make adjustments, we can, and we can do it on the floor with our coach’s help, and that is because our (basketball) IQ is so high. We are a player-led team, and that is what has pushed us to where we are today,” Mitchell said.
San Diego State will carry their NCAA-leading 23-game winning streak into Colorado to play against Air Force on Saturday, February 8, at 5 pm Pacific Coast Time. Air Force is 9-13 on the season and has lost its last four games. The Falcons are coming off a 68-79 loss to Fresno State and travel to Nevada to face the Wolfpack on Tuesday, February 4. The Aztecs remain the fourth-ranked team in the AP Poll for the fourth-straight week and will have a seven-day break between games.