Tarke’s Takes after nail-biting win over Utah State

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: Aztecs Athletics

The SDSU Aztecs hung on for dear life and defeat the Aggies 63-61 in a game that featured everything. Through elite defense, bench production, and riding a tremendous first half, SDSU was too much for USU.

They ended a three-game losing streak in Logan, Utah, and maintain their first-place lead in the Mountain West.

Staying Composed:

It is difficult to put the first half into words; it was unusual.

Through the first 13 minutes, the Aztecs led 27-17, and nothing felt abnormal except for the game being stopped every few minutes due to the shot and game clock malfunctioning. This delayed all momentum of the game and ruined the flow for both teams.

With 6:49 left in the first half, everything escalated.

Like every team across the country does when they have momentum heading into a pause in the action, SDSU’s bench leapt onto the court to congratulate their teammates. As the Aggies walked back to their side, they became entangled in the celebration. Television replays appeared to show Aggie forward Taylor Funk react to something Darrion Trammell said. The referee signaled a technical foul and pointed first to Funk and then to Trammell. SDSU’s Basketball Performance Assistant Sam Scholl, who was next to Trammell and presumably heard the exchange, responded incredulously to Funk’s reaction.  

Given the stakes of the game, the crowd, and the way SDSU had dominated the contest, the episode at that point felt normal for such a competitive contest. It was not until Aggies head coach Ryan Odom sprinted across the court and, in protest, bumped an official that mayhem ensued. Odom’s antics were rewarded.

What would have likely ended with technicals on both teams or one technical on Funk without Odom’s tantrum resulted in three ejections and three technicals. SDSU was awarded two shots but lost a starter and one of their primary ball handlers when Trammell was ejected. USU lost Connor Gillis and Connor Odom, players that average 1.6 and 1.0 minutes, respectively. 

“Yeah, it was upsetting, but I mean, it’s adversity,” Jaedon LeDee said postgame. “We knew that adversity (would) be here. So, he went away, you know, we just had to pick it up and pick up the slack.”

The ejected players were cited for leaving their benches. That it took place in front of SDSU’s bench or that Trammell left before the altercation began was immaterial. NCAA Rule 10-4.8 says that only the head coach and an assistant can “leave the bench area when a fight may break out or has broken out (emphasis added).” Since Funk was in the game at the time, he was not subject to ejection. 

“I talked to the team before the game that when you play on the road, you have to filter all this stuff out and concentrate on the job you have to do, not get caught up in the crowd or officiating, and just play basketball,” Coach Brian Dutcher said.

Credit: SDSU Athletics

For the next three minutes, the referees, needing to regain control, called the game tight. All contact was whistled a foul. Among the eight whistles, Steven Ashworth was given a technical for arguing. In between, the shot clock continued to not start on time.

Without their starting point guard, the Aztecs watched their lead shrink to single digits. They were helpless on the defensive end because they were consistently called for a foul, all in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball.

In the final 3:30 of the half, they rallied for an 11-3 run to go into the half with a 44-28 lead. The half was capped off by Micah Parrish grabbing a rebound off his own miss and scoring a putback in the final seconds. The first half could not be complete without another shot clock incident. Despite the ball clearly hitting the rim, the operator did not reset the clock and improperly went off during the attempt. Unlike the myriad of stoppages prior, the refs ignored the miscue and allowed the half to finally end. 

SDSU not only weathered the storm but found themselves on top by a wider margin than when Trammell was ejected.

“We didn’t get caught up, as best as we could, in all of the other side stuff that went on in the game,” Dutcher said.

Back to the Basics

Coming into the night, according to Kenpom, the Aggies were the 11th-best offense in the nation. They were the best three-point shooting team in the country, had the fifth highest FG%, and have five players that average in double figures.

Final stats from the night:

Aggies: 61 points.

38.5% FG%

5-for-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc

Two players in double digits.

Elite defense travels, even into the most hostile arenas.

“Their defense really impacted us in a negative way,” Odom said. “They were getting out on Steven, getting out on Taylor. We were not as organized as we needed to be, attacking their half-court pressure. We didn’t give ourselves enough space. We didn’t cut hard enough. All things that our guys are pretty good at. You have to give San Diego State credit for getting us out of sorts in our half-court offense.”

It is difficult to win a game when a team scores only 19 second-half points, but the SDSU defense was good enough to do so. They were stifling in their ball pressure and never let the Aggies find their rhythm. The Aggies constantly moved throughout their offense, running off screens and cutting. The Aztec defenders did a tremendous job trailing and rarely let USU get open.

The Aztecs also did a tremendous job on the glass. Last season when the Aztecs traveled to Logan, they finished the game with zero offensive rebounds. The coaching staff put an emphasis on grabbing second-chance opportunities coming into this game. The Aztecs finished the game with 15 offensive rebounds and won the overall battle 42-34. This was pivotal in the second half when every possession felt critical.

Last season, the Aztecs needed sensational defense, or they would lose. This year, it has taken a step back, but they have shown glimpses all season. Tonight, they put together a 40-minute display of ferocious defense, and with the addition of aggressive rebounding, they are difficult to beat.

“This conference is unbelievable,” Dutcher said. “ It’s a hard conference to win in. So, we feel very fortunate to come in here get a win. You know, if you told me we’re going to only score 19 points the second half, I’d say we’re going to walk out with an “L.” But we played well enough, defended well enough, and then Matt Bradley was able to make big important baskets when nothing else was working. Matt looked like the preseason Player of the Year in the conference. To me, tonight he was really good.”

Best bench performance of the season:

Winning on the road is difficult. It takes all phases of the game. Offense, defense, fundamentals, and bench contributions.

With Lamont Butler going 2-for-12 from the field, Nathan Mensah not looking like himself, and the ejection of Trammell, it took everyone in the rotation to remain alone on top of the standings.

Parrish subbed in for Trammell and immediately got going offensively. He found his jumper from outside, looked for his spots in mid-range, and hit contested field goals. He had ten first-half points, 12 for the game. He ended up fouling out, but he provided valuable minutes for the team.

In the second half, it was LeDee’s turn. He was a force inside and the Aztec only offense for stretches. He battled on the glass, created room in the paint, and drew contact. He finished the game with a double-double, 14 points, and 10 rebounds (four offensive).

Aguek Arop was his typical self, doing it all and finishing with the highest +/- on the team (+13). He was a magnet for the ball and continued to find himself in the right place at the right time.

As a team, SDSU finished with 30 bench points. The Aggies scored 9. In a low-scoring game, this was pivotal.

“Our bench with Micah and Jaedon were great,” Dutcher said. “AG always gives us great minutes, you know, energy-wise.”

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Quick Takes:

          Again, the Aztecs went on a first-half surge to create a margin. After trailing 13-8, they went on a 17-2 run. In the first matchup against the Aggies, they went on an 18-0 run. They have done this on a consistent basis this season.

          Matt Bradley was cooking. In the first matchup, he only scored four points on 2-for-10 shooting. The Aggies have tall defenders to throw at him, but Bradley could not miss, converting on his first seven field goals. He hit timely baskets to kill Aggie momentum. He finished the game with 18 points.

          Utah State had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Max Shulga had a contested attempt from the free throw line, which was nearly the exact same spot that Kenan Blackshear of Nevada took the night prior to convert the game-winner against New Mexico.

          LeDee is suffering from the “Shaq treatment.” Bigger players such as Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James are given a different whistle. Since they are much bigger, the referees do not give them the same calls as other players. LeDee always receives contact that does not result in a foul call on both the offensive and defensive end. Most notably, he grabbed the offensive rebound on the Aztecs final offensive possession and received a lot of punishment trying to put it back up, and there was no foul called. 

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