We heard it since last season, the Aztecs had something special in TCU/Ohio State transfer Jaedon Ledee. After an average first game against Cal State Fullerton, the Aztec faithful were hopeful to see glimpses of what only the players, coaches, and few outside observers had seen.
On Friday night against BYU, Ledee wowed everyone that what they had heard was true as he put the team on his shoulders. This was especially the case in the first half, as the Aztecs stayed close to the Cougars and ultimately triumphed 82-75 at a sold out Viejas Arena.
The game started off sloppy for the Aztecs, committing early turnovers and falling behind to the hot shooting Cougars. BYU shot 50% from the field, including 45% from beyond the arc, to hold a lead for a majority of the first half.
While San Diego State could not keep the Cougars from scoring, the defense was able to create turnovers to keep the game close and avoid letting BYU run them out of their own gym.
San Diego State did not shoot well in the first period, shooting 30% from the field (20% from three). But Ledee kept them in the game. He scored 16 points before half and dominated BYU big Noah Waterman down low. Ledee and the rest of the Aztecs used the free throw line to stay within striking distance in the first 20 minutes.
The second half picked up with the Cougars pushing their lead up to 10 five minutes into the second half, but the Aztecs continued fighting back. Each time it seemed like the Aztecs were going to get back into the game, BYU would hit a big shot, usually a three-pointer, to stop San Diego State from stealing the momentum and keeping the crowd at bay.
BYU does not have the type of defense that could shutdown the Aztecs all night, and eventually Darrion Trammell and Nathan Mensah arrived as reinforcements.
Trammell scored 16 points in the second half, including two huge three-pointers late in the shot clock, and Mensah was perfect from the field in half number two (3-3 from the field and 3-3 from the free throw line) as the Aztecs shot 50% and outscored the Cougars 14-3 from the charity stripe in the second half.
Unlike the BYU defense, the Aztec defense came alive when it mattered most. In the second half San Diego State turned the Cougars over nine more times (20 for the game) and scored nine points off turnovers, which helped fuel a 12-0 run that brought them roaring back and allowed them to take the lead for good.
With momentum on their side and a sold out Aztec crowd blowing the top off Viejas Arena, the Cougars were unable to regain their composure and control.
Once the game was in their control the Aztecs finished off the Cougars with their defense; forcing missed shots, securing important rebounds, and creating timely turnovers and blocks, none likely bigger than Mensah sprinting back to block a breakaway dunk that was sure to silence the Viejas crowd.
The new faces carried the team today offensively, which bodes well for a team with capable scorers like Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler. Ledee led the team with 23 points. Trammell followed with 21 points, and Mensah finished with a double-double 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Though Bradley visibly had an off night, the hard work and determination this team possesses was on full display even after the game. Images made their way to social media of him taking shots and working on his game even when all 12,414 cleared out of the seats.
BYU had four players in double figures led by Spencer Johnson (17 points). Rudi Williams chipped in 15 points, followed by Fousseyni Traore (15 points), and Gideon George (11 ponits).
San Diego State now travels up to Stanford to take on the Cardinal on Tuesday.