Like an older brother in the backyard, the San Diego State Aztecs imposed their will against the UCSD Tritons. They were too physical. The Aztecs used their size advantage as they ripped away rebounds for putback dunks, swatted shots, and never allowed UCSD to find an offensive rhythm.
SDSU prevailed 78-57.
After securing the biggest resume win of the season, a letdown was possible, but the Aztecs carried over their hot shooting from playing in Arizona against Saint Mary’s.
The Aztecs had a score of 45 points at halftime on 58% shooting, going 6-for-10 from beyond the arc. They finished shooting 54% from the field and 47% from the three-point line.
Sickness was rampant around the team. SDSU assistant coach Dave Velasquez missed the game fighting an illness. Matt Bradley and Trey Pulliam were battling sickness, but both were in the starting lineups even though Pulliam missed the early pre-game warmups.
“I was worried about tonight, most concerned about the illnesses running throughout the team,” Coach Dutcher said. Dutcher got a text at the beginning of the day saying Pulliam could not play, which worried him as Adam Seiko would have been the only ball handler.
With the stars fatigued, others had to step up. Thankfully for the Aztecs, Seiko is shooting into a hula hoop. After coming into the game making his last seven threes, he opened the game with three straight threes, a no-look pass for a layup, and a filthy euro-step finish. He finished with 11 points.
Nathan Mensah towered over Tritons’ defenders with a clear size advantage and made post shots, stole rebounds, and blocked every shot in his path.
Mensah finished with a dominant stat line of 19 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. He had a hard fall early in the second half and left the game but returned.
“Nathan Mensah was good around the basket today, he had the same shots against Saint Mary’s but couldn’t get them to fall, but to his credit, he kept his confidence up, and we went to him early and often,” Dutcher said.
Keshad Johnson contributed a season-high 13 points and was huge on the glass as he secured seven rebounds.
Bradley fought through illness and needed a nose plugin the first half after a hit to the face. He finished with 13 points, including three from long range.
The Tritons feature three double-digit scorers. An emphasis for the Aztecs was controlling Toni Rocak, who features the highest usage rate in the country. He came into the game banged up as he came off the bench the last two nights. Besides wearing a face mask, he looked healthy. After the beating he took, he may find himself back on the injury report.
Rocak started the game missing his first six shots, had two of them blocked, and was nearly put on a poster on a missed Matt Bradley dunk. He finished the game with 10 points on 4/15 shooting and had four turnovers.
The Tritons’ leading scorer was Jake Kosakowski with 18 points, all thanks to the three-ball, who went 6-for-9 from three.
Coming into the night, the Tritons had faced only one team in the top 150 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. The Aztecs, who rank seventh, gave them fits all night. After the first TV timeout in the second half, Triton’s coach Eric Olen was visibly upset at his players’ inability to find an open shot. Finding open looks is easier said than done against this feisty Aztec defense.
The Tritons shot 39% from the field, had 18 turnovers, and even featured a second-half scoring drought over eight minutes.
Viejas Arena felt quieter tonight, with most of the students away for their winter breaks. But as the rest of the fans always do, they showed up strong. The crowd booed for questionable calls and exploded for Johnson dunks. Their biggest applause was saved for the Tritons. A UCSD fan proposed to his girlfriend during a timeout break. The crowd erupted when she said yes. So at least a Triton won something on Wednesday night.
The Aztecs travel home for Christmas and get to spend time with their families. Dutcher emphasized that they are taking protocols very seriously and want the players only to see their loved ones.
They will be home till the 26th before preparing for a tune-up game against San Diego Christian on the 28th. They will then start their Mountain West schedule on January 1 against UNLV.