Photo – Rick Scuteri/AP
The Aztecs fell short against St Mary’s Saturday afternoon 68-61 at the Jerry Colangelo Classic inside of Phoenix’s Footprint Arena. The Sons of Montezuma Kiss The Rings crew were in downtown Phoenix to witness all the action and give a firsthand account of the outcome.
It was the Gaels first victory over SDSU in the last 4 tries against the Aztecs and by the looks of things in the giant NBA sized arena you could definitely feel it.
There were mostly SDSU fans in red & black in pockets spread throughout the arena, as the blue of St. Mary’s supporters barely peppered a few areas in the cavernous Colangelo event.
This loss came at perhaps the worst time possible for SDSU. But given the game was broadcasted on ESPN+, the few eyeballs to witness it on screen and even fewer in the arena was probably the best reality of the outcome.
Behind good ball movement and high percentage shots, SDSU seemed to possess solid energy and physicality over the Gaels to take a 10-6 lead early in the first half.
But it was the hot hand of SMC freshman guard Aidan Mahany that charged the Gaels to jump on SDSU by as much as 8 points in the half time.
Nearing the end of the first half SDSU woke up with some key defensive stops that helped them put together a final flurry of points by Keshad Johnson and Micah Parrish.
The back to back scoring possessions featured the big highlight of the night when Parrish’s half court buzzer beater three tied the game at 35 all heading into the intermission.
In the second half it was all St. Mary’s. In the Aztecs opening possession they turned the ball over and it was a vision of what was to come. The Aztecs had no answer on offense to keep up with Mahany & Co.
Though SDSU on the evening led St. Mary’s on both rebounds and assists, they once again shot miserably from behind the 3 point line at just 3/15 for 20%.
The Aztecs also had two more turnovers than the Gaels to add to their struggles. When looking closer at the turnovers, SDSU’s were more non-stop action leading to in play possessions favoring the Gaels. SMC’s Logan Johnson alone had four steals on the Aztecs in the afternoon.
In contrast, the Gaels turnovers featured three times where they violated the shot clock, resulting in the whistle stopping the action.
The familiar theme to this game, unfortunately for SDSU, was the inconsistent play on both sides of the ball. Defensive lack of awareness and the offensive lack of quality shots.
For both of SDSU’s season leading scorers (Trammell & Bradley) it took a combined 24 shot attempts and 5 free throws to reach just 20 points in total.
Trammell has shown an ability to make shots in tough situations despite his smaller frame. However, this is not a recipe for consistent success or a base offense, as his shooting percentage has clearly shown.
For the offense in the 2nd half, they were stuck at 46 points from the 15:04 mark to the 10:01 mark. They also went on another devastating scoring drought from the 9:18 mark to the 5:23 mark just getting to 52 points.
On the defensive side, far too often SDSU’s approach has been to help double when the opposing player has not shown to be putting together a performance that is double team worthy.
SDSU’s undisciplined tendencies in not recovering to their assignments have led to many open looks and their opponents have knocked their shots down far too often.
Minutes, Precious Minutes
All five of St. Mary’s starters played 31 minutes or more in this game—despite all of them racking up 4 fouls or more. With SDSU, only one player (Butler) played at the most 31 minutes.
The belief has always been that the Aztecs depth will power them over the top with their fresh able bodies. This has not seemed to be the case against the higher quality teams this season.
With foul trouble for the Aztecs the belief has been that the depth could cover over any perceived deficiencies. Such is not the case whenever Center Nathan Mensah is on the bench. Collecting early fouls on Mensah has been a target for opponents when playing SDSU, and far too often referees have given into blowing the whistle.
The Aztecs this night were blown away on defense when Mensah was out of the action.
In just the Aztecs 3rd loss on the season, the disappointing outcome will undoubtedly knock SDSU down and out of the Top-25 polls. All this just as the non conference slate of games on the schedule winds down to a close.
But more importantly how will it affect the teams outlook towards the rest of the year.
A loss to a quality program like St Mary’s is nothing to be ashamed of for SDSU. But when one thinks about the high hopes SDSU had coming into this specific year, it is far from the vision held by all of Aztec Nation.
Working on the side of the Aztecs are the next 16 days holds just two games against opponents they should be favored. With ample amount of practice time to tighten up their fundamentals, but also to potentially introduce some new strategies if that is in coach Dutcher’s vision.
Up next almost immediately however is this Monday night, 12/12 at Viejas Arena against the dangerous Kennesaw State Owls.
The Owls come into San Diego at 6-3 with close to solid losses to Florida and VCU. As well as quality victories over Appalachian State and Mercer.
Led by 6’4″ guard Chris Youngblood averaging 15 pts per game and shooting just under 45% from the 3 point line. The Owls also boast a 5’11” senior point guard Terrell Burden.
Burden is an excellent facilitator leading the team in assists, 2nd in scoring at 11 points per game and though he doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, he is hitting at just about 50% from behind the arc.
On average Kennesaw State is putting up 75 points per game and allowing just under 69.
Head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim came to Kennesaw State after a year-long stint as an assistant at Georgia under head coach Tom Crean.
Prior to UGA, he spent four years as an assistant at Texas A&M (2014-18), helping lead the Aggies to three NCAA Tournament bids, including two Sweet 16 appearances in 2016 and 2018. He helped orchestrate three 20-win seasons while at TAMU, helping the Aggies to a school record 28 wins in 2016.
The Aztecs are favored by over -18 points according to Las Vegas. It will be fascinating to see after such a short turnaround if SDSU can secure that confidence and bounce back against the Owls.
After Kennesaw State, the Aztecs will wait over a full week to face off against cross town opponent UCSD on 12/20.