After SDSU defeated the Charleston Cougars in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament there was no time to sit back and relax for the Aztecs staff or players. In the words of CBS’s Jon Rothstein, we sleep in May.
The Aztecs victory wether large or small put them in position, with just one more win, to reach the Sweet16 for just the 3rd time in program history. Holding the #5 seed in the South region immediately puts the Aztecs as the favorite in these first two games of the bracket. But don’t try and tell coach Dutcher that.
“These games are all right down to the wire no matter who you’re playing.” Said Coach Brian Dutcher to the media this morning, fresh off his first NCAA tournament victory since taking over the program six years ago. “They’re all good teams now like I said, you can throw the seeding numbers out. It’s about who’s playing good basketball at this point in time.”
This Saturday, SDSU will face Furman University after the Southern Conference champs pulled off one of the most conspicuous upsets in this early tournament when they beat the #4 seed Virginia 68-67 in the first game in Orlando Thursday.
The 13th-seeded Paladins rallied from 12 points down in the second half, securing the win on a clutch three-pointer by JP Pegues with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Who Exactly Are the Furman Paladines
In Furman, the Aztecs will encounter one of the hottest teams in the tournament. The Paladins, in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980, have won seven straight and 15 of their last 16 games.
Before their win on Thursday, the last time Furman had won a game in March Madness was in 1974 when they beat in-state opponent the University of South Carolina.
The Paladins are the team from Greenville, South Carolina and they boast four double-digit scorers—all whom played well in the upset victory over the Cavaliers.
Fifth-year senior Jalen Slawson led the way in the first round win—pouring in 19 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out four assists. On the season, Slawson a 6’7” forward averaged 15.7 points a game and was named the SoCon Player of the Year.
Joining Slawson with All-SoCon first team recognition was fifth-year senior guard Mike Bothwell. Against Virginia, Bothwell, 6’3”, contributed 11 points and six rebounds. He actually led the Paladins in scoring this season at 18 a game.
Furman’s other two guards also came up big in their upset win. In addition to the game-winner that busted up so many brackets, the sophomore JP Pegues added three rebounds and four assists to his 11 total points.
When it comes to the games final go ahead shot, according to Furman head coach Bob Richey, “JP Pegues had missed his last 15 three pointers going back to the SoCon tournament semifinals. When his moment arrived, he had worked his way into being able to capitalize and I just knew it was going in when I saw him shoot. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
Not to be outdone, redshirt junior Marcus Foster tallied 14 points in helping send the Paladins, ranked 89th on KenPom heading into the Big Dance, on to the second round of the tournament.
Like SDSU’s first opponent in the tournament Charleston, Furman likes to cast away from deep. They average 9.5 made threes per game and knocked down 10 against Virginia. On the season they shoot 35.7% from beyond the arc shooting the 13th highest three-point rate in the nation.
“Furman is playing good basketball right now, I don’t care what seed they are,” reiterated Dutcher, “They’re playing good basketball or they wouldn’t have won. And so now we have to find a way to disrupt them, and play our best brand of basketball.”
The Aztecs will need to defend Furman’s spread offense that uses ball screens and dribble penetration to get into the paint and kick out for open threes. The veteran team doesn’t have much size down low so they do look to get out in transition.
Thankfully, for SDSU fans, the Aztecs have shown they can get back on defense as well as anyone. In addition, the last two games the Aztecs have held both Utah State to 16% behind the arc and Charleston to just 20% shooting from three. The task is ultimately the same, however the method will be different for this Aztec team.
A trip to the Sweet Sixteen is there for the taking for one of these teams. If the Aztecs can play their usual stifling defense that limits three pointers and forces tough twos, then an extended stay in the NCAA Tournament can be a dream realized.
“I told the guys in March is the time you get fewer mistakes you have to play up to your potential if you’re going to win.”
For coach Dutcher and the Aztecs, the second round NCAA Tournament game is scheduled to tip off at 9:10am PST on CBS. San Diego Sports 760 will have the radio call.