SDSU looks sharp in rout of Div. II UCSD in basketball exhibition


As UCSD’s basketball team walked off the floor for halftime at Viejas Arena, trailing San Diego State by more points (25) than it had scored (24), a fan in the student section held up a hand-written sign in red ink:

You guys wanna be D1???

The Aztecs looked very much like the Division I school Wednesday night, the Tritons very much like they’re still in Div. II (they move up next year), in what turned out to be a surprisingly easy exhibition game. The final score was 86-51, and the only reason it was that close was because of slightly less torrid second-half shooting by the Aztecs.

“For a first performance in front of a crowd, I liked what I saw from my team,” said coach Brian Dutcher, who celebrated his 60th birthday Wednesday. “I like the disposition and attitude of this team.”

“Everybody got in and got to do their thing,” said junior transfer Malachi Flynn, who had eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists. “Definitely a step forward.”

The focus this season has been a quicker start in November and December, something that didn’t happen in Dutcher’s first two years as head coach and erased any shot at an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. The early signs weren’t positive: 19 turnovers in a closed-door scrimmage last Saturday against a Div. II Point Loma Nazarene team replacing all five starters and the head coach, and only a four-point margin in the second half.

But Dutcher admitted they didn’t do their normal scout for the Sea Lions and essentially threw his players out there blind.

They spent three practice days prepping for the Tritons, who are ranked No. 5 in the Div. II coaches poll and return four starters from a 26-win team (plus their best player from 2017-18). It showed.

“It helped a lot,” said Dutcher, whose team opens the regular season on Tuesday at home against Texas Southern. “Scouting always helps. We made the decision to switch the 5-man ball screen to limit his 3-point shots. We knew what each player could do. We know who were shooters, who were drivers. Our kids pay attention. They’re quick studies, and they want to be taught. It’s obviously not as important as fundamentals, but it’s a big part of the game.”

The Tritons closed to within 16-14 on one of the few bone-head plays by the Aztecs – a foul by Joel Mensah on a basket by Chris Hansen, compounded by a technical foul for slamming the ball on the floor (it bounced a good 10 feet above the rim).

It amounted to a five-point play and a quick hook from a furious Dutcher.

It also amounted to a spark, a sort of let’s-not-play-around-with-these-guys epiphany.

The Aztecs went on a 15-0 run over the next seven-plus minutes. By halftime, the lead was 49-24 thanks to shooting 63 percent. Midway through the second half, it was 37.

“It didn’t exactly play out the way we hoped,” UCSD coach Eric Olen said. “We would have liked to play a little better, but San Diego State had a lot to do with that, too. They played well from the start. They were ready to go. The game obviously got away, but even in the competitive portion they were playing well.”

The NCAA’s new 3-point line, extended almost 17 inches for Div. I, isn’t being implemented in Div. II until next season, and the Tritons struggled with the deeper arc after leading Div. II in made 3s last season. Wednesday, they were 9 of 40.

Another issue: UCSD sat starting point guard Tyrell Roberts with an abdominal strain, and SDSU wore down the remaining backcourt with relentless full-court pressure.

The only Tritons player not bothered by the line or the D was Christian Oshita, back after missing most of last season with ACL surgery. He had 17 of his 20 points in the first half after going 5 of 7 beyond the arc.

The rest of the team? Seven points on 2 of 24 shooting.

Hansen, a Div. II all-American center last season, played only four minutes in the first half after quickly picking up two fouls in one second (fouling on a shot, then on the free-throw rebound). He finished with five points (all on one play) and two rebounds.

Some notables for SDSU:

  • The starters were Flynn, KJ Feagin, Jordan Schakel, Yanni Wetzell and Nathan Mensah. Flynn, Feagin and Wetzell were playing for the first time at Viejas Arena in an Aztec uniform.
  • The leading scorers all came off the bench: Matt Mitchell and true freshman Keshad Johnson had 12, and Joel Mensah had 11 — part of a 47-22 advantage in bench points.
  • Thirty-eight of SDSU’s points, or 44 percent, came from players who weren’t in uniform last season.
  • All 10 scholarship players who suited up scored. Aguek Arop and Nolan Narain were injury scratches.
  • The Aztecs shot 55 percent overall and 44.4 percent (8 of 18) behind the extended 3-point line. UCSD shot 28.8 percent.
  • The Aztecs won their 27th straight exhibition game.

“After the game, I put a number on the (white) board and said, ‘This is the most important number in the game: 60,’” Dutcher said. “They didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, ‘I turned 60 today.’ They all had a good laugh. I had to get my readers to read the stats.”


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