Aztecs Earn Sole Possession of First-Place With Wins at Air Force & Colorado State

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On their 2nd stop in the Rocky Mountain Challenge series this week, the Aztecs visited Clune Arena to face the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It was the 2nd meeting for these two opponents this season after the Aztecs beat the Falcons at Viejas Arena in late December.

The Aztecs prevailed once again this time, out muscling the Falcons 70-60. The road victory pushes their overall record to 15-4, 6-1 in the Mountain West Conference, and after a Boise State loss to New Mexico earlier in the weekend, sole possession of 1st place in the conference.

Though the game was tight from the early moments of the opening half, the Aztecs weathered the storm and kept their composure by sharing the ball and taking smart shots.

This was a different Air Force team coming into this game however. Despite the sub twenty-degree weather outside, the Falcons were as hot as they’ve ever been this year—winners of three straight conference games.

This night featured two polar opposite programs—and not only for the style of hoops they play. In terms of age and experience SDSU sits at the top of the league with nearly 3 seasons played on average for each player.

Meanwhile the Falcons are the youngest team of the conference and it showed back in December. On this night they would show great maturity since that last game as they scratched and clawed their way back into the game despite being as far down as 18 points.

Of course, this is not entirely special or specific for an Aztecs opponent this season. What Air Force did do is take Brian Dutcher’s team to the wire and further expose some good and bad features to the top team in the conference.

How Deep Is Your Love

SDSU was shorthanded without Adam Seiko in this game. Seiko the program’s most winningest player, suffered an undisclosed illness and was not able to make the trip back out to Colorado. I say “back”, because this is college ball, not the NBA.

College basketball teams don’t have the luxury of playing one overtime game in Fort Collins, Colorado on Wednesday and then easily travel to nearby Colorado Springs for their weekend matchup. Class schedules remain and travel budgets constrain.

Brian Dutcher, the players, and staff went through the travel rigors of going back home to San Diego in the early morning hours after their first road game this week. No doubt the sudden change of the brutal travel takes it toll and could’ve affected Seiko’s inability to be there.

The loss of Seiko tightened up the rotation to just 8 players, but the Aztecs depth played out as designed. Four of the five starters scored in double figures and each eight of the players who logged minutes scored 4 points or more.

Leading the way this night was Keshad Johnson who put up a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Matt Bradley also notched 13 points, followed by Darrion Trammell with 12, and Lamont Butler with 11.

The game could’ve been put out of reach much earlier with Adam Seiko’s high 3-point percentage shooting. He definitely could’ve helped stave off that furious Falcons comeback to make the game less tense.

But perhaps being forced down to just an 8-man rotation pressed everyone to step up their game against an inferior opponent. Either way, we hope for a speedy recovery, Adam.

Free Throws

It’s been a bug-a-boo for SDSU. Free throws have been an unsightly problem as of the last few games. With such a physical team as SDSU has, they are for sure going to get to the line in games they are the favorites. The key is taking advantage and knocking down the freebies.

Versus the Falcons, the Aztecs took more than enough. Twenty-three attempts compared to just ten for Air Force is incredibly lop-sided and shouldn’t be counted on to happen often. But credit to the boys for taking care of business.

The Aztecs missed just ONE free throw on the evening by far their best output on the season. Keshad Johnson alone knocked down 6 of 7, and Micah Parrish hit all 7 of his shots from the charity stripe.

This kind of performance from the line should give Aztecs fans one less thing to whine about on social. But in all seriousness, it’s good to know the team has some rhythm to build more confidence off of moving forward.

Cleaning Up the Glass & More

The Aztecs as a team shot just 38% from the field and were just 4-18 from 3-point land. But it was their 45-25 rebounding advantage that was the thing of beauty in this game—if you’re into that kind of thing.

Second chance points and doing the dirty work was the calling card that frustrated the smaller Falcons all night. Led by Johnson and Mensah the Aztecs held a 15-4 advantage in offensive rebounds.

The Aztecs are tough to beat when they can dominate the glass with that kind of dedication and effort. And no doubt on these two road trips they are receiving their opponents highest effort.

That kind of effort is what we’ve come to expect from Jaedon LeDee and Aguek Arop. Both the two Aztecs forwards are cut from similar cloth of rebounding intensity. With both on the floor at the same time, opponents will find it very difficult to grab loose boards.

The many different lineups at Coach Dutcher’s disposal was one of the early season challenges that we knew he would have. But perhaps the veteran Arop and the energetic LeDee playing minutes together can help rub off some defensive and offensive disciplines.

We also got to see some flashes of brilliance from Darrion Trammell we hadn’t seen the last few games. His sure handed ball control and art for making difficult shots look easy, were enough to mask a few bad tendencies. With Trammell you take the good with the bad and more times than not this season, the good has outweighed the bad.

Both Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler had been carrying the bulk of scoring load the last few weeks and although this game didn’t have them post up big numbers, you can see both players ability shine through despite all of the shots not falling.

Butler’s confidence seems to grow with each passing game in the form of more penetration to the rim, his pull-up mid-range game, and excellent defensive IQ.

Butler on the other hand shown again that when it comes to closing out the games, he’s the one you want to control the game. He was able to finesse his way to the basket and settle the Falcons down not allowing their short spurts to gain momentum.

The road to the Mountain West championship always goest through SDSU and everyone wants to beat the Aztecs. New Mexico took down Boise State giving the Aztecs the sole possession of first place however the conference as a whole is still up for grabs with four teams on the back of SDSU’s heels.

Previous victories over UNLV and Wyoming have lost a bit of it’s luster as both have sunk deep into the depths of the league with only 1 victory.

Meanwhile Utah State, SDSU’s next opponent has been solidly hanging around all year. The Aggies are the #1 team in the nation in terms of 3-point shooting, a facet of the defense that SDSU has struggled to stop opponents from taking advantage of.

This Wednesday, January 25, SDSU hosts the Aggies at Viejas for their first of two regular season matchups this year. More to come on this exciting matchup!

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