Tarke’s Takes: Three-headed Wolfpack too much for Aztecs
It was a classic Mountain West battle. A game that seemingly featured a lead change every change of possession without any squad reaching a double-digit edge. The Wolfpack made the right plays late in the game, earning a court-storming after losing to the Aztecs for the last nine meetings.
Nevada won 75-66 over San Diego State.
“We made too many mistakes to beat a good team that’s undefeated on their floor this year,” Coach Brian Dutcher said.
The Three-Headed Wolf
In the first matchup, the UNR star trio of Jarod Lucas, Kenan Blackshear, and Will Baker combined for only 30 points, their second-lowest output of the season. They shot a combined 11-for-35 from the field. It was a much different story the second time around. They nearly matched the production from the first outing the first half alone. They all 28 of Nevada’s first-half points. They finished the game with 63, nearly outscoring the Aztecs on their own.
The Wolfpack are led by Lucas, he transferred from Oregon State, a team that went on an Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament in 2021. He is constantly moving throughout the offense. He goes around screens and looks for his openings from all over the floor. He is similar to Steven Ashworth of Utah State. The Aztecs and Darrion Trammell had success guarding the Aggie on January 25th. But Lucas is taller and appeared un-guardable as he shot over defenders.
Dutcher countered his height late by putting Butler on him, but it was too little, too late, Lucas was in rhythm. He finished the game with 26 points.
One of Lucas’s traits is the ability to draw fouls and contact. Through his dramatic antics, the refs are quick to reward him with a foul call.
“He knows how to draw fouls, he falls down on any contact, and I just told the refs, let’s not let him fall down all game and give him every foul,” Dutcher said. He ended up getting to the line eight times and converting seven of them.
Dutcher was not blaming the refs, he was accountable for the defense against the three Wolfpack stars.
“Baker made some hard shots, Lucas was just making shots, and then we let Blackshear get downhill on us all game, and that’s a bad combination on the road,” Dutcher said.
Collectively they aided UNR’s second half that, scored 47 points on 65% shooting, and went 14-for-15 from the free throw line. Another poor second half defensively for SDSU.
Early in the second half, the Wolfpack built a five-point lead, and the SDSU offense looked lost. This would normally be a time to have the starters in to not let the game get away. But multiple times, the CBS crew panned to the Aztec sidelines and had Darrion Trammell, Keshad Johnson, Matt Bradley, and Nathan Mensah all sitting together, waiting for their turn.
Dutcher decided to deplete his bench to counter the Wolfpack baskets. Jaedon LeDee found open buckets inside the paint, Aguek Arop found space, and Adam Seiko started hitting threes.
In the second half, SDSU scored 22 bench points. They finished with 29, winning the battle of the bench 29-1.
Dutcher was quick to make substitutions. Seiko checked in within the opening two minutes, Bradley sat down early. This may have been done to throw fresh legs at a short Wolfpack bench. The strategy did not prevail, but it has shown success throughout the season.
The SDSU starters not named Bradley shot a combined 7-for-20 and scored 21 points. Having an effective bench is crucial as the season goes on when starters do not have their shooting touch. Without the bench on Tuesday, the game would have been out of reach quicker. Also, Dutcher plays his late-game lineups based on who is playing the best in the current game, Micah Parrish, Arop, LeDee, and Seiko all saw crunch time minutes.
Joining the Aztecs, it was expected that Trammell would take some time to gel into the SDSU offense. But he immediately clicked, scoring 18 points in his debut and 21 in the next game against BYU. As teams have adjusted to his play, this level of output has not continued for the whole season.
In the first 11 games of the season, Trammell scored in double figures seven times. He appeared to clearly be Bradley’s partner in crime to lead the SDSU offense. But in conference play, he has scored in double figures only three times, averaging 8.8 ppg and shooting 34% from the field. He has still been a playmaker, averaging almost four assists a game.
This season, he is below his career average numbers in FG%, 3PT%, and FT%. He has a different role this year, and his volume has decreased, but at a certain point, shots have to start falling. He is the type of player who can score in bunches, but he will also go through droughts. For the Aztecs to make a deep tournament run, they will need Trammell to be a consistent scoring option.
As one of the primary ball handlers, Trammell is the leader of the SDSU team. Against the Wolfpack, he showed he needs to continue to prove his leadership. Early in the game, he picked up a dead-ball technical foul for shoving Jarod Lucas. However slight the touch may have been, it was unnecessary. Lucas pushed Trammell’s buttons. SDSU’s guard also picked up a technical in the previous meeting after the two of them exchanged words.
In the first matchup, Trammell guarded Lucas hard and did not let him get into a rhythm. On Tuesday, Lucas took advantage of his height and shot over the smaller Aztec defender whenever he could. Once Lucas got rolling, Trammell could not affect him.
In this matchup, Trammell was forced to cover Lucas longer as Lamont Butler picked up his second foul at the 12:45 mark in the first half. Offensively, after a solid first half, Trammell found no shooting rhythm in the second half. He finished the game with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting while going 0-for-5 from three.
Preseason, this team was consistently compared to the 30-2, Malachi Flynn led team. That team had four players averaging double digits. Even with his recent struggles, Trammell joins Bradley as the other double-digit scorer on the team. Johnson and Butler are slowly finding their offensive rhythm. By the end of the year, this could be a lethal group of scoring options. But there is still a long way to go.
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- This was a must-win game for the Wolfpack. They needed the game as a resume builder to keep them in contention to win the Mountain West and to get the SDSU monkey off their back. They played like the hungrier team and fed off the crowd’s energy. Their defense was more intense, and they made the Aztecs work for everything.
- Through the opening five minutes, the Aztecs looked like the same team that ran over the Wolfpack in the first matchup. They led 11-4 at the first TV timeout. But Lucas got in Trammell’s way and was given technical free throws. It took five minutes to review the play and took the momentum away from SDSU.
- The game did not reach cable television until the 11:41 mark in the first half. Loyola of Chicago and Dayton played in the game before and went to overtime which forced fans to watch through a stream to see the game.
- Nevada is one of the best teams in the nation at getting to the free-throw line. They convert at 79.6%, good for fourth in the nation. In the first matchup, the Aztecs won the free throw battle. The Wolfpack won the second time around, shooting 20-for-23 from the charity stripe.
- Fight for first place. The Aztecs play Boise State on Friday at Viejas Arena, a game that will determine sole possession lead of the conference. “I told the team, try to find a thing or two that we can improve both individually and us as coaches and then go back to work because we don’t have time to sit here and obsess about this loss,” Dutcher said.
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.