Senior Night: Eight Aztecs play their last minutes inside Viejas Arena

Keshad Johnson finishes on a fast break set up by an assist from Darrion Trammell. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Elite pressure led to an SDSU blowout over Boise State. (Tammy Ryan/EVT)

March 4 against Wyoming will be an emotional night. The fans will watch the Aztecs fight for sole possession of the Mountain West regular season title with a win. Adding to the festivities, SDSU labeled Saturday’s contest a “whiteout,” encouraging those at Viejas Arena to wear white in support of the team.

Before tipoff, eight seniors with tremendous careers will walk out with loved ones to be honored for their time with the Aztecs.

Nathan Mensah and Aguek Arop made the walk last year before deciding to return for a fifth season. Adam Seiko and Matt Bradley announced before Senior Night that they would pursue another year of education and return for the 2022-2023 season. These four no longer have a choice and will be playing in their final games as Aztecs. Already two players have announced that they would use their extra year of eligibility and return next season.

Four of their teammates, Jared Barnett, Tyler and Triston Broughton, and Keshad Johnson could be making the final walk inside Viejas Arena. They have eligibility to return for another season, but of the four Johnson is the most likely to play next year for the Aztecs.

The departing seniors have all had memorable careers and will be remembered forever in Aztec lore.

What is each senior’s most memorable moment?

Jared Barnett enjoying the first day of practice. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

Barnett: As a non-scholarship player, he was never given much of an opportunity to be on the floor. He battled in practice and was great at embodying the opposing team on the scout team to help the starters get a feel for their next opponent.

But he did receive important game minutes last season in the first Mountain West game against UNLV. Trey Pulliam was out due to an illness, and Lamont Butler was scratched due to a wrist injury that was still not 100 percent. Adam Seiko was the primary ball-handler with no one behind him on the bench. Barnett checked in the first half, ready for the moment, and performed his job. He did not score and was only in for a few minutes, but he possessed the scout team mentality of always being ready for the opportunity.

Ty. Broughton: The younger brother may not have gotten as much on court time as he would like. But in pre-game warm ups, he is one of the flashiest dunkers on the team. He puts on a show before games. His most memorable moment came in this offseason when his remarkable story was first told to Aztec Nation.

Tr. Broughton: Both brothers along with Barnett should be remembered for their work behind the scenes. They did wonders for the scout team and did not complain about their role. It’s a testament to the Broughton’s that they have not scored in their careers. They have had opportunities in games to shoot but they do not force shots or make bad plays. Something that may not be known is that Triston brings an energy to the team that is infectious.

Mensah: Mensah’s career was almost cut short in the 2019-2020 season. He was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism; he played the first 13 games but never returned.

His health recovered in 2020-2021; he ended up playing a massive role in hanging multiple banners in Viejas Arena. The following season, he assisted in the Mountain West regular season and conference championship. Then he won the MW Defensive Player of the year the following season. This year he has again aided in a regular season MW championship and possibly more.

His bounce back from his health scare has been remarkable, and he will always be remembered in Aztec history.

Arop: Arop battled with his health more than he did with players on the floor at times in his career. But a stand-out moment in a game was in 2019-2020.

The 2019-2020 Mountain West championship game probably wants to be removed from a lot of Aztec fans’ memories because of the fashion in which their historic season ended, but Arop’s performance in the game cannot be forgotten. Without Mensah playing in the game, the Aztecs needed a defensive anchor to guard Utah State’s seven-footer, Neeimas Queta. Arop filled the void tremendously. He played an incredible game off the bench, where he finished with eight points, four rebounds, and two blocks.

He has always shown up for the big moments and shown the ability to guard every player on the court, no matter the size advantage.

Seiko: This season, Seiko’s performance against Utah State will always be remembered for his hot shooting. In his six seasons on the Mesa (redshirted his freshman year), he has always been known as an elite shooter. This season he is shooting 48.4 percent from beyond the arc.

On January 25th against the Aggies, Seiko made it known what happens when he gets hot. USU left him open beyond the arc to open the game. Seiko made them pay. Once he got going, he pulled up from anywhere on the court until, eventually, he was an inferno and converted seven threes in a row. He finished the game with a career-high 25 points. 

It’s a performance that he is capable of on a nightly basis, and his high outside shooting percentage will be needed for the rest of the season.

Fans focus on who starts games, coaches on who finish. Each night, players compete for the honor. On Monday, Dutcher depended on Trammell, Seiko, Bradley, Arop, and Mensah. They delivered down the stretch. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Johnson: One of the most exciting players to ever step foot on the Mesa, Johnson has provided highlight plays throughout his career. His most memorable moment occurred off the court. Early in his time at SDSU, he competed in a scrimmage against former players, they raved about the potential Johnson displayed. Their glowing reviews gave birth to a legend. 

On the court, Johnson’s play against San Jose State has always stood out. In four of the last five contests against the Spartans, he averaged 11.5 points and 8 rebounds a game. 

Bradley: Bradley should be remembered for his ability to carry the weight of the SDSU team for the last two seasons. He has been the team’s go-to scorer, and when a bucket is needed, or the opposing team has momentum, the ball is in Bradley’s hands.

He has grown as a player in his two seasons on the Mesa, becoming a much better playmaker. As defenses shifted the court towards Bradley, he found teammates to make plays. This ability has helped him this season as he is less relied on to score but still needed in order to make plays.

Bradley will look for his shining moment in the NCAA tournament. He has suffered multiple heartbreaking defeats in the last two seasons with the ball in his hands to end the game. Losses that needed soul-searching in the offseason. A shining moment or play in the MW tournament or NCAA tournament could put him in Aztec lore forever.

Which senior will be missed the most? 

The easy answer is Bradley. He has been the team’s go-to scorer and has the lion’s share of impact on the offensive side of the floor. Offense can be replaced, however, a one-of-a-kind big man, cannot.

Mensah will be missed dearly.

Bradley and Trammell deserve a lot of credit for the win, but the most dominant player was Nathan Mensah. He finished with seven points and nine rebounds. When he was not in, the contest took a different tenor. (Don De Mars/EVT)

This will be his second time doing his walkout on the court with his family for senior night festivities. Last season, he was undecided about returning for another year on the Mesa, but after months of talking to NBA scouts and evaluators, he decided to return for a fifth year.

His fifth season has not ascended his NBA draft stock, but he is still doing all the things that made him an all-time SDSU big man.

He has been less involved offensively this year. He is taking only 4.6 shots a game, the least since his sophomore year. He is averaging 6.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, and 1.6 blocks per game this season.

 His defense has not taken a step back. He is the team’s paint protector. When he is off the floor, the impact is felt. His ability to match up with any player on the court is unmatched and scarce for players his size. Against Colorado State a week ago, Isaiah Stevens, one of the best guards in the nation, was starting to find success scoring against the SDSU guards. When Mensah switched out to him on the perimeter, he set his defensive stance and forced a turnover.

In his five seasons on the Mesa, the Aztec defenses have been ranked 78th, 10th, 21st, 2nd, and currently sits at 14th

Over the last decade, SDSU has relied on their interior paint protector, Skylar Spencer, for four seasons and Mensah for five. They have been the staple to elite Aztec defenses. The team has been lucky to find these gems and will now have to hit the market for an elite defensive big or hope Demarshay Johnson is ready to fill the role.

Who had the most memorable game?

It is difficult to choose a single Bradley game. Last season, he single-handedly carried the team into the NCAA tournament. 

One of his best performances was his career high 30 points at Laramie, Wyoming. The game was played at the end of the season, where SDSU still needed to solidify a tournament resume. Up to this game, they were on the bubble, according to most bracketologists. 

Matt Bradley  (Josh Jimenez/EVT)

Heading into Wyoming, the Cowboys were undefeated at home and were firmly in the NCAA tournament field. An Aztec win would have done wonders for their resume. Bradley understood the stage and was on fire for the entire night. He went 5-for-9 from beyond the arc and dished out four assists. He set the tone early in the game and hit big-time shots in the second half. 

Throughout the 2021-2022 season, Bradley was sensational, in games that he was not, the Aztecs were forced to win in ugly fashion. With the 167th-rated offense in the nation, Bradley was the savior in order to keep them afloat throughout the season.

Which Aztecs will return to the 2023-2024 squad?

Mensah, Bradley, Seiko, and Arop have no more eligibility. Barnett and the Broughton’s have a year of eligibility, but without a scholarship, they will have to decide if pursuing another year in college basketball is worth it. The player with the biggest question mark is Johnson. 

Johnson: He has had hype for his basketball tools his entire career. Supreme athleticism at his size with his defending ability immediately gets a scout’s attention. His time with the Aztecs has been all about developing to make it to the next stage.

Slowly his offensive game has improved. He’s able to score in the post and over defenders. His athleticism and knack for finding the ball in key spots creates easy baskets for himself. He is a career 22.2% three-point shooter, and he has not improved that percentage in his senior year. As a scorer, he still has a ways to go to move himself up an NBA draft board.

After the season, it is likely that he will test the NBA waters. He will get looked at by NBA scouts without immediately declaring for the draft. Plenty of SDSU players have gone this route, Matt Mitchell and Mensah in recent years, both returned for another season.

Keshad Johnson finishes a breakaway dunk. (Don De Mars/EVT)

If he does return for a fifth season, the bulk of the offense will have graduated, Johnson will have the keys to the offense and the chance to improve his draft stock. This season, he is attempting only 5.4 shots a game, next year, this number would balloon.

The decision is in Johnson’s hands. If NBA scouts think his size, athleticism, and potential are enough to get drafted, he may have the opportunity to be drafted later in the draft. Johnson may be content with graduating and ready to move on to the next stage of his life. Whatever he decides, SDSU will gladly welcome him back for a fifth year, as his talent is needed.

With Trammell and LeDee deciding to return, the Aztecs will have another talented squad if Johnson returns as well.

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