The SDSU men’s basketball team finished their Colorado road trip at USAF Academy in Clune Arena against the Air Force Falcons on Saturday, the second meeting between the two teams this season.
The Aztecs defeated the Falcons in their previous match-up on December 28, 71-55, behind a huge 27-point performance from Matt Bradley, who shot 75% from the field and 85% from beyond the arc.
The main stat of that game was points off turnovers. SDSU had 26 points off Air Force’s turnovers (14 total turnovers). The Falcons, up until the game tonight, have had more turnovers than their opponent. The Aztecs had one more turnover than Air Force in the season’s first match-up but only capitalized on them for eight points.
While turnovers cost Air Force in the December 28 match-up, coming into the game tonight, they could make up for it with their assists, which they have totaled 303 of and get 15.9 per game, 36th best in the nation (As of January 18th). Their assist to turnover ratio is 45th best in the nation (As of January 18th).
The Aztecs had a week off to prepare for the match-up against the Falcons in the first match-up, but this time only had two days. Head coach Brian Dutcher said in the press conference after the first game versus Air Force that “a coach takes comfort if he likes practice going into a game,” but it didn’t bite them in this game.
The Red and Black defeated the Falcons 70-60 behind dominant rebounding and second-chance points to go to 15-4 overall.
After Nathan Mensah and Bradley got the first four points for the Aztecs in the first half, Air Force went on a 9-0 run.
Lamont Butler ended the Falcons’ run with a three, but SDSU was off to a poor start shooting, going 3 for 12 from the field up until the 13:27 mark.
Bradley’s two free throws and Darrion Trammell’s three-pointer led the Aztecs back in the lead at 18-17 after Falcon Corbin Green put in a lay-up at the 8:01 mark. Trammell was fouled on the three and made the free throw to complete the four-point play, and SDSU led 19-17.
After Green’s lay-up tied the game, the Red and Black went on a 7-0 run before Jake Heidbreder buried a three to end it. The score was 28-22 Aztecs.
Heidbreder’s three didn’t spark any momentum for Air Force, as SDSU went on a 9-0 run and were kept comfortable.
The Red and Black were on a 20-5 run to end the first half and went up 39-24.
No Aztec was in double digits to end the first half, but Butler led the team with nine points on three of seven shooting, with Bradley right behind him with seven points on two of six shooting. Both players were one for two from beyond the arc and two for two from the charity stripe.
Heidbreder, the leading scorer on the Falcons, had 10 points on 57% shooting from the field and 40% beyond the arc.
The Aztec defense held Air Force to 21% beyond the arc in the first half, while they were 41%.
The Red and Black were a perfect 12 for 12 from the charity stripe, while the Falcons only got four opportunities at the free throw line and made one.
The Aztecs outrebounded Air Force 25 to 11 in the first 20 minutes, with SDSU having the size advantage at the forward position.
Beau Becker got the second half started with a three, but it didn’t start the Falcons’ much-needed momentum to catch up to SDSU.
The Aztecs kept up their offensive dominance and went on a 12-2 run up until the 16:14 mark after Becker’s made three.
Air Force finally got the momentum they needed and went on a 9-0 run with the Red and Black on a scoring drought for five minutes. The Falcons cut the Aztec lead to nine.
Butler ended the Aztecs scoring drought with a free throw and made two of two from the stripe, but Ethan Taylor drained a three for Air Force on the ensuing drive to cut the lead to seven.
After Keshad Johnson’s three at the 9:26 mark, both teams were exchanging points, and the Falcons kept the game within reach.
Taylor and Heidbreder put in lay-ups to cut the lead to five at the 1:08 mark for Air Force after Johnson went two for two at the line, but SDSU survived and held on to the win.
The Red and Black won 70-60, handing the Falcons their fourth loss in conference to stay in first place in the Mountain West at 6-1.
The Aztecs were 22 for 23 from the charity stripe and had 45 rebounds, 20 more than the Falcons, which Dutcher praised were the two main statistics of the game.
“We had to win on the glass and win on the foul line,” Dutcher said postgame. “You have to find ways to win games, and they’re not always easy.”
Bradley and Johnson both finished with 13 points and combined an eight for 16 from the field. Johnson finished with a double-double as he had 10 rebounds.
“I feel great, feel like I got my identity back,” Johnson said postgame. “I haven’t been playing up to par the past couple of games, but basketball is a game of ups and downs.”
Trammell and Butler were both in double digits as well, as they combined for 23 points and went eight for 22 from the field.
Three Falcons were in double digits, with Heidbreder leading the way with 17 points on seven for 15 shooting.
Another big statistic was second-chance points, as SDSU had 18 of them while Air Force had zero.
The Falcons were 46% from the field, despite the loss, and the Aztecs were at 39%.
“We’ll be back on fresh legs,” Dutcher said postgame. “We’ll be back at it on Monday and Tuesday and get ready for a big game on Wednesday.”
The Aztecs head back home to Viejas Arena to take on the Utah State Aggies at 8 pm PST on Wednesday, January 25.