• Welcome to America's Finest Sports Forum and Podcast!

    afsportsforum.com is one of the largest online communities covering San Diego sports. We host a regular podcast during the major seasons. You are currently viewing our community forums as a guest user.

    Sign Up or

    Having an account grants you additional privileges, such as creating and participating in discussions. Furthermore, we hide most of the ads once you register as a member!

SDSU Aztecs Basketball 2018 Season Thread


FU Spanos and Dundon
Staff member
SDSU basketball preview: A promising yet unpredictable season ahead


Brian Dutcher is a cheery, optimistic, glass-is-half-full kind of guy. Asked what was going through his mind last Thursday as his basketball team that received votes in the Associated Press preseason poll fell behind Division II Chaminade of Honolulu by double digits in their exhibition, he said: “I just had to smile.”

In that vein, there are two ways to put a positive spin on what was still a one-possession game inside a minute to go. On the 11-point deficit, on the 11 first-half turnovers, on the 11 missed free throws, on Chaminade’s 13 offensive rebounds on the defensive lapses that surrendered nine 3-pointers in 14 minutes.

One is that it’s just an exhibition and a lot of presumably good Div. I teams have struggled against Div. IIs.

Arizona trailed this same Chaminade team by eight in the second half Sunday before winning by single digits. Preseason No. 2 Kentucky was up only five in the second half against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Wyoming beat Colorado Christian by three. UNLV needed a last-second shot to beat Montana State-Billings. Air Force lost to Western Colorado by, gulp, 20.

The other: It might pump the brakes on runaway expectations for a program that has reached the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last nine years … yet has eight freshmen or sophomores on the roster and one of the nation’s most demanding nonconference schedules.

“I know our fans are thinking, ‘Well, it’s opening night and it’s a win for the Aztecs,’” Dutcher said of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tip at Viejas Arena against Div. I Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which was picked to finish third in the SWAC and has the preseason player of the year in guard Martaveous McKnight. “But obviously I’m very concerned … As a head coach, you’re always concerned.

“No one really knows what they have until you step out on the game floor. But I think every coach in the country knows what he sees in November is not what he’s going to see in December, January, February and March.”

To that end, here are five things to watch over what promises to be an equally promising and unpredictable season.

The Aztecs could be 4-5 or even 3-6 through nine games, and still be NCAA Tournament material by the end of the season. That’s how talented they are. That’s also how young they are, and how brutal the early schedule is.

You can control your nonconference schedule, but you can only control so much of it. The Aztecs are in a four-year rotation with the Maui Invitational and had no idea 2018 would have the strongest field in the event’s history. They were assigned the Dec. 1 road game at Illinois State – picked to win its conference ahead of Final Four participant Loyola Chicago – as part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, and higher powers forced them to renew the series against USD when the coaches wanted out.

The result: six incredibly difficult games in 19 days between Nov. 19 and Dec. 8.

Somebody is going 0-3 at Maui, and three others are going 1-2 (and six of the eight teams in the field played in the NCAA Tournament last season). Then they’re at Illinois State, then home against a 20-win USD team with four starters back on the heels of a road trip that takes nine hours each way, then at Cal.

Dutcher somehow has to navigate that with a roster of five freshmen, three sophomores and only three juniors or seniors.

“Maybe there will be games where we’re overmatched or the environment will be tough,” Dutcher said, “but I’m just looking for a level of play that I know, by the time we get to conference, will pay off for us. I’m more concerned about how we’re playing.

“Obviously I want to win. I mean, that’s what we’re here for. We want to win the games. But I want to see improvement, I want to see us getting better every game. We know what’s in store of us.”

Staying healthy
Trey Kell had missed one game in his first three seasons at SDSU, with the flu.

He missed parts of nine last season with a variety of fluky ankle sprains and thigh contusions, and the Aztecs weren’t the same without him. They lost the final of the Wooden Legacy against Washington Statewhen Kell and Malik Pope both got hurt. They lost a one-point game against Cal after Kell went down early. They lost six of eight in the conference season with Kell sidelined for most of it.

And when Kell finally regained health? They closed the season with nine straight wins and came one defensive stop from knocking off sixth-seeded Houston in the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs have 11 scholarship players eligible this season, and all 11 are healthy enough to suit up against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. But …

Already, Nathan Mensah has missed a month of preseason practice – including three intrasquad scrimmages, a closed-door scrimmage at USC and the exhibition against Chaminade – with a finger strain, and fellow freshman Aguek Arop has missed nearly as much with a hip problem. Nolan Narain sat out the second half of the closed-door scrimmage at USC with a rolled ankle.

Then moments into practice Monday, Devin Watson badly jammed a finger and was essentially playing one-handed.

It’s a reminder that basketball teams are living, breathing organisms, and the wrong injury to the wrong person at the wrong time can alter their fragile equilibrium. That maxim takes on added importance on a team with a rotation that figures to be shorter than in recent seasons.

The African experiment
SDSU has built its program on California kids – from San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and points between – and has largely resisted the influx of foreigners in the college game.

Over the previous decade, it had one player born outside North America: France’s Mehdi Cheriet, who averaged 3.6 points in two seasons from 2009 to 2011.

The current freshmen class has four: Aguek Arop, Joel Mensah and Nathan Mensah were born in Africa. Ed Chang was born in Germany, the son of a Sudanese diplomat.

It unfair to classify them under the sweeping generalization of foreigner players. The Mensahs grew up in Ghana and only came to the States for high school; Arop and Chang emigrated as toddlers and were raised in the 20,000-strong South Sudanese community in Omaha, Neb.

But it represents a seismic shift in the program’s recruiting philosophy, and it could have implications on future teams.

“African” players have had mixed results in college basketball, and coaches anecdotally talk about a one-in-four success rate. But already the Aztecs appear to have found keepers in Arop and Nathan Mensah, and Chang and Joel Mensah have shown rapid improvement over just a month of practice.

At least three and maybe all four could get regular minutes this season on a team with only six returnees. It’s a brave new world, literally, for Aztecs basketball.

The three
We can thank the Golden State Warriors and advanced analytics for this, but the 3-point shot continues to become an increasingly significant facet of the game.

Just five years ago, 32.9 percent of shots and 26.7 percent of points in Division I came from behind the arc. Now, 37.5 and 31.4 do.

The Aztecs have lagged slightly behind the national averages, but their numbers are rising as well. In 2013-14, 21.2 percent of their points came via 3s compared to 28.6 percent last season. The 709 they attempted were second most for a single season in school history.

This team is even more equipped for the long ball, with all five positions able to shoot it when 6-foot-10 forwards Jalen McDaniels and Narain are on the floor. But there’s a difference between shooting the 3 and making the 3, and the danger, coaches will tell you, is jacking them up without proper discretion.

And the Aztecs have never shot it that well. Last season they improved to 33.7 percent, and that still ranked 242th out of 351 Div. I teams.

“You can’t totally fall in love with the 3,” Dutcher said. “You’ve got to shoot the right ones, you’ve got to shoot the open ones. I want to shoot the assisted ones. I don’t want guys dribbling into a lot of them. I want them to drive that ball and move it to the perimeter, or else throw it inside and shoot it off a post touch, where it’s inside out.”

The cautionary tale: The school record for attempted 3s is 736, in the 2016-2017 season (and nearly 100 more than they shot when they went 34-3 in 2010-11). The Aztecs made just 31.7 percent of them, ranking 320th nationally, and didn’t reach the postseason for the first time in 11 years.

Chemistry test
There is no doubt this team has the pieces: a senior guard who can score, a senior guard who can defend, a sharpshooting wing, a post-up wing, a versatile 3, an NBA prospect at the 4, a stretch 5, a shot-blocking 5. There is size, speed, length, athleticism, energy, experience, youthful enthusiasm.

The question: Can they fit together?

It is the question for every team, every year. And a question not usually answered until midseason or, in the case of the 2017-18 Aztecs, until mid-February.

The players have talked at length about their chemistry and attitude, how the “knuckleheads” on the roster are gone and the freshmen work ethic is contagious. But if the exhibition against Chaminade revealed anything, it is that there might be some personal agendas lurking beneath the surface.

Sophomore Matt Mitchell, not one to mince words, put it like this: “The ball was sticking a lot.”

That’s code for selfish play.

It starts at point guard with Watson, a fifth-year senior who transferred to SDSU after averaging 20.3 points at USF. He dropped to 12.2 last year and regularly operated as an off-guard when Trey Kell was healthy. He’s clearly more comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he’ll have it this season. But what will he do with it and how will his teammates react to that?

“We know Devin is a scoring point guard,” Dutcher said. “As a coach, you always walk the line. You want a scoring point guard, and that’s what he is – a scoring point guard. So at times, he’s going to take some shots that are going to be difficult.”

In the closed-door scrimmage against USC, Dutcher said Watson took one “8 feet beyond NBA (3-point) range” that got him a seat on the bench.

“He said: ‘Are you going to take me out for taking that shot?’” Dutcher recounted. “I said: ‘I’m going to take you out for not making it. So if you make it, I might not have taken you out. But if you take shots like that and miss them, I might take you out.’ That’s just being honest.”

A look at the roster
0 Devin Watson R-Sr. G 6-1, 183 The USF transfer is still making the adjustment from being the primary scorer to one of several. With Trey Kell gone, he’ll be back in his comfort zone with the ball in his hands.

2 Adam Seiko R-Fr. G 6-3, 195 Early injuries forced a redshirt last season. Likely will come off the bench as a “3 and D” guy, as a perimeter shooter and defensive stopper.

3 Aguek Arop Fr. F 6-6, 220 The South Sudan product has special gifts (a 7-0 wingspan, 36-inch vertical leap) that could allow him to become a special player. Does it all – score, rebound, defend, block shots.

4 Michael Sohikish Sr. G 5-9, 160 The walk-on from University City High began his career has a student manager and now is an integral part of the scout team in practice.

5 Jalen McDaniels R-So. F 6-10, 195 Returned for his sophomore season after testing the NBA Draft waters with improved range on his shot and a bigger role in the offense. A double-double machine.

11 Matt Mitchell So. F 6-6, 240 Started 32 games as a true freshman and averaged 10.5 points, but he also had a team-high 66 turnovers. Look for him to play more inside and be a 4-man in small lineups.

20 Jordan Schakel So. G 6-6, 200 Worked in the offseason on expanding his game from a 3-point specialist to attacking off the dribble. Had only nine turnovers in 33 games last season.

22 Malachi Flynn Redshirt G 6-2, 180 The Washington State transfer must sit out this season, but he figures to be worth the wait. Averaged 15.8 points and 4.3 assists in the Pac-12 last season.

23 Ed Chang Fr. F 6-8, 215 A sharpshooting forward who, like Arop, grew up in the South Sudanese community in Omaha, Neb. Will have to catch up defensively to get on the floor this season.

24 Nolan Narain R-Jr. F 6-10, 230 After redshirting his first year and getting limited minutes in his next two, the Canadian post finally gets his opportunity. Offers 3-point range from the center spot.

31 Nathan Mensah Fr. 6-10, 225 An absolute physical specimen (7-5 wingspan) who swats shots and is a beast on the boards. Missed a month of practice with a strained finger on his left (shooting) hand.

35 Joel Mensah Fr. F 6-10, 215 Also from Ghana, no relation to Nathan. He’s long and athletic as well, but his best assets are a (really) high motor and mid-range jumper. A likely back-up this season.

42 Jeremy Hemsley Sr. G 6-3, 195 His scoring averaged dropped to 7.9 last season after 12.0 and 12.9 as a freshman and sophomore, but he’s blossomed into one of the West Coast’s elite defenders.

Five can’t miss games
Nov. 19 vs. No. 4 Duke: The Blue Devils have never lost at the Maui Invitational, a perfect 15-0 with five titles. And SDSU’s most recent meeting with Duke, in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, was a 68-49 loss. But if you’re going to play a Coach K team starting four freshmen, better in November than March.

Dec. 3 vs. USD: The tricky part is as much the opponent (the best Toreros team in a decade) as the circumstances, coming just days after a taxing road trip to Illinois State in Normal, Ill. The last time the Aztecs went to the Midwest, to face Loyola Chicago in 2016, they lost their next game at Grand Canyon.

Dec. 22 vs. BYU: The closest thing to a rivalry game for SDSU. The Cougars’ final season in the Mountain West, in 2011, was punctuated by three epic Kawhi vs. Jimmer battles. Their most recent meeting, at the 2014 Maui Invitational, went into double overtime before the Aztecs prevailed 92-87.

Jan. 5 at Boise State: No Mountain West team has been a bigger thorn for SDSU recently than the Broncos, who have won three of the last four at Taco Bell Arena. The Aztecs will be trying to avoid another slow start in conference after losing two straight openers.

Feb. 20 vs. No. 7 Nevada: The Aztecs don’t face the only team picked ahead of them in the preseason Mountain West poll until 26 games into the season. Then they play twice in the final six games (at Reno on March 9) and possibly again in the conference tournament. SDSU won the last two meetings.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at SDSU
Tuesday: 7 p.m. at Viejas Arena

On the air: 1360-AM, 101.5-FM. No TV or internet streaming.

Records: Season opener for both teams

Series history: SDSU leads 2-0. The most recent meeting was a 79-43 win at Viejas Arena in 2012.

Golden Lions update: They were 17-14 overall and 13-5 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), reaching the championship game of the conference tournament .This year, they’re picked to finish third behind Grambling State and Texas Southern. Senior guard Martaveous McKnight (18.6 ppg) is the SWAC preseason player of the year, and 6-5 forward Charles Jackson (9.3 ppg) also was among the five players named to the preseason all-conference first team. George Ivory, who was SWAC player of the year at Mississippi Valley State in 1987, enters his 11th season as head coach. Like many SWAC teams that help bankroll their athletic departments through “buy” games on the road, the Lions will play at home in H.O. Clemmons Arena only once in nonconference. They’re at Colorado State on Saturday.

Aztecs update: The Aztecs are expected to go with the same lineup that started the exhibition against Chaminade: Devin Watson, Jeremy Hemsley, Jordan Schakel, Matt Mitchell and Jalen McDaniels. Freshmen Nathan Mensah (finger) and Aguek Arop (hip) did not play against Chaminade but both are available. So is Nolan Narain, who has been slowed by a sprained ankle. The Aztecs hope to get good news a few hours before tipoff, when 6-7 high school senior Keshad Johnson from Oakland is expected to announce his college decision. He is said to be down to SDSU and Fresno State, where former Aztecs assistant Justin Hutson is now head coach. Before tip-off, the 2018 Mountain West tournament championship banner will be unveiled. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the first of three SWAC teams to face the Aztecs this month, with home games against Texas Southern (Nov. 14) and Jackson State (Nov. 27).


FU Spanos and Dundon
Staff member
3 thoughts: SDSU 76, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 60


Three thoughts from San Diego State’s 76-60 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the season opener Tuesday at Viejas Arena:

1. The key to Keshad
Moments after shaking hands and walking off the floor, SDSU’s coaches switched on their mobile phones and checked the Twitter account of a high school senior from Oakland.

Nothing yet.

About a half-hour later, a video popped up on his feed.

“Less than six months ago I didn’t have any offers, and today I make one of the biggest decisions of my life,” Keshad Johnson said in the video. “Today I am excited to announce that I will be continuing my education and basketball career at … San Diego State University. Go Aztecs!”

It’s an important commitment because Johnson is a talented player with huge upside, a versatile 6-foot-7 forward reminiscent of former Aztec Billy White – the kind of under-the-radar prospect that has thrived on Montezuma Mesa.

But that’s not the only reason. It gives the Aztecs a prep commit from the class of 2019 after one they thought was coming (Iverson Molinar) decided to attend college in Starkville, Miss., instead and another (Mission Bay High’s Rejean “Boogie” Ellis) is expected to pick Duke when he makes his announcement Friday.

The only other prep player SDSU is pursuing, Jaden McDaniels (younger brother of Jalen), still has two official visits to take and might not sign a letter of intent during the November window.

There’s also this: Johnson’s final two were SDSU and Fresno State, now coached by former Aztecs assistant and recruiting coordinator Justin Hutson. That Hutson, a master evaluator (he discovered Kawhi Leonard), was recruiting Johnson so hard tells you his potential. That the Aztecs beat Hutson to get him tells you recruiting is bigger than one person; it’s a staff, a program, a university.

Instrumental behind the scenes for SDSU was new assistant coach Jay Morris, which explains why he was absent from several practices in recent weeks (he was in Oakland). Dutcher, knowing Johnson had scheduled a Tuesday announcement, left practice early Monday afternoon to fly to Oakland and visit with Johnson.

But there was no time for celebration. Wednesday morning, Dutcher was back on a plane, this time to Seattle to see McDaniels. Recruiting never sleeps.

2. Extra work
The lights in Viejas Arena were dimmed following last Thursday’s exhibition game against Chaminade to save electricity, but that didn’t bother Jalen McDaniels. He was out there anyway, practicing free throws and perimeter jumpers.

“Can you see OK?” trainer Clint Parks asked. McDaniels nodded and kept shooting.

Across 55th Street, Devin Watson tapped his key card against the doors of the JAM Center practice facility, turned on the lights and started hoisting shots.

McDaniels was 3 of 7 from the line after shooting 78.8 percent last season. Watson, a fifth-year senior, had five points on 1-of-5 shooting behind the arc.

Not good enough.

“They just did it on their own,” Dutcher said. “They just get in there and get their shots up on their own. I can’t mandate that they do it, and we can’t be there when they do it. This is just something they decide to do, and that’s the beauty of the JAM Center. They can get in there 24 hours a day.”

That’s also the beauty of having veteran players with healthy work ethics. Sometimes too healthy.

“Jalen’s to the point where I almost want him to slow down a little bit because he puts in a lot of individual work and I don’t want his legs getting tired,” Dutcher said. “He is relentless with working on his game, and I think it shows.”

McDaniels’ line against Arkansas-Pine Bluff: 15 points (4 of 6 from the line), nine rebounds, five assists, three steals in 27 minutes.

Watson’s line: 20 points (6 of 10 on 3s), four rebounds, three assists in 38 minutes with a badly jammed pinky finger on his shooting hand.

“Devin might have played his best floor game since he’s been here,” Dutcher said. “I mean, we were just running off those high ball screens and he was finding everybody. He was finding the low post, he was finding the skip (pass) for the 3. And then you add to that how he shot the ball. And I didn’t feel like he was hunting shots. I think he played off other people.

“He was the catalyst for a lot we did offensively.”

3. Eyes on the Tigers
SDSU’s nonconference schedule got harder Tuesday, and not because No. 4 Duke and man-child Zion Williamson absolutely annihilated No. 4 Kentucky 118-84 on national television. It was what happened in Waco, Texas, and what almost happened up the freeway in Northridge.

Texas Southern went to Baylor and, trailing by 17 inside 14 minutes to go, won 72-69. And New Mexico needed a banked-in 3 by Anthony Mathis to beat CSUN 87-84.

Texas Southern is SDSU’s next opponent on Wednesday, the supposed confidence-builder before the Aztecs head to the Maui Invitational and face Duke. And CSUN, another supposed gimme, comes to Viejas Arena on New Year’s Day.

Of most immediate concern is Texas Southern, which reached the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons and is picked to finish second in the SWAC, one spot ahead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Tigers soiled Baylor’s 56-0 record against the SWAC and ended a 45-game home win streak against unranked nonconference opponents.

The new coach is Johnny Jones, who knows the Aztecs and their tendencies well, having spent last season as Eric Musselman’s lead assistant at Nevada. Before that, Jones was head coach at LSU, which explains how he got Jaylyn Patterson.

The fifth-year transfer from LSU finished with 23 points, eight in the dramatic final minute – a 3 to tie it, a 3 to take the lead and a pair of free throws to clinch it. Over the final 13-plus minutes, the Tigers outscored the Bears 34-14.

Oh, and Texas Southern also has a 7-2 center in Trayvon Reed (15 points, 12 rebounds).

The good news for the Aztecs: SWAC teams spend November criss-crossing the country to play “buy” games that help fund their cash-strapped athletic departments, and before getting to Viejas Arena the Tigers are at No. 3 Gonzaga (Saturday) and Iowa State (Monday).
When we lose to Duke, how many people are going to complain that they are tired of seeing the same old **** - that they won't be happy 'til the team wins an NCAA championship?


FU Spanos and Dundon
Staff member
Short-handed San Diego State wins at Illinois State


Waiting for luggage at Chicago’s Midway airport on Friday night, Steve Fisher sauntered over to the man who replaced him as San Diego State’s basketball coach and uttered two numbers:

“75-68, Aztecs,” Fisher told Brian Dutcher matter-of-factly.

The cagey, old fox might want to work on his prognostication skills. He might be slipping.

The Aztecs beat Illinois State 75-65 on Saturday afternoon at Redbird Arena.

Close enough.

SDSU got the kind of road win that makes the fingers of NCAA Tournamentselection committee members stop as they move down the schedule, that makes their heads to nod in approval.

The Redbirds (6-3) are picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference ahead of a Loyola Chicago team with a 99-year-old nun on the sideline and a 2018 Final Four banner in its arena. They also had won 10 straight at home and 37 of the last 41. Three days earlier here, they came from 14 down in the second half to beat BYU in overtime.

The game was in Normal, Ill., but nothing else about it was normal – and not just because Illinois State wore candy-stripped retro shorts (think Harlem Globetrotters) in homage to the presence of Fisher, who played there in the late 1960s and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame last year.

The Aztecs (5-2) were down to three healthy veterans by tip-off, on the road for the first time this season, with a bench consisting of five freshmen, in early foul trouble, clanking free throws, getting lane violations, dribbling out of bounds … and somehow led for the final 37 minutes and by at least eight for the final 10 minutes.

It was a fond farewell to the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, the annual series about which Aztecs coaches have not hid their disdain. And it will make the endless travel day home – a 2½-hour bus to Chicago, a 4½-hour commercial flight to San Diego – only slightly less painful.

“You know how that plane ride is after a loss,” senior Jeremy Hemsley said. “Nobody wanted to feel that. That was really the motivation for me. I did not want to be feeling sad on that plane ride home.”

Hemsley, for one, doesn’t mind playing the Redbirds. He is the only person left on the roster that faced them in the 2015 challenge at Viejas Arena, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in his collegiate debut.

Saturday in Normal: 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 39 minutes.

Backcourt mate Devin Watson had 23 points and seven assists in 38 minutes. He sported a black headband with his locks sprouting out the top, in his words, “to switch it up a little bit, to get a little swagger back.”

Contrast that to Illinois State counterparts Zach Copeland and Keyshawn Evans. They combined for 11 points on 5 of 23 shooting.

“Clearly, they won that battle,” Redbirds coach Dan Muller said. “Watson started off slow, then just made shots, made plays, assists, guarded, played 38 minutes and wasn’t as tired as our guys were. Their guards were really good.”

They had to be.

The two teams might have been better off playing 3-on-3 than 5-on-5. Illinois State (6-3) was down to eight healthy players and a bunch of guys at the end of the bench with crutches or walking boots. But at least seven of those eight were juniors or seniors.

SDSU already was missing junior Nolan Narain, who stayed home with flu-like symptoms, and Watson admitted he’s on antibiotics and was up half the night coughing. Then sophomore Jordan Schakel started feeling bad, leaving Dutcher with … a bunch of untested freshmen.

“This morning, he had his hood on at our meeting and I said, ‘Jordan, you know no hoods for meetings,’” Dutcher said. “He said, ‘I’m sick, I don’t feel good at all.’ I said: ‘Well, put your hood up.’”

Schakel barely participated in warmups, but he gutted it out – “He’s a tough cookie,” Dutcher said – and started anyway. And played all but three minutes in the first half after Matt Mitchell went to the bench with two early fouls.

Schakel finished with three points in 25 minutes, but he had seven rebounds and helped hold star forward Milik Yarbrough to 16 points (one below his average, most of it with the outcome decided) on 4 of 12 shooting.

The reduced numbers and heavy minutes, though, didn’t deter the Aztecs from their game plan, which was to run, run, run. It also helped that ISU, after making at least 40 percent of its 3s in the previous four games, were 5 of 24, creating long rebounds and transition opportunities.

The Aztecs finished with 17 offensive rebounds, a 47-36 advantage on the glass and a 15-2 edge on fast-break points.

A career-high 15 of those boards came from Jalen McDaniels. He also had 12 points, including a pair of spectacular tip-ins, for his 10th career double-double. No coincidence: The Aztecs are 9-1 in them.

McDaniels, Watson and Hemsley all played at least 38 minutes, but Mitchell and Schakel were in foul trouble, meaning Dutcher didn’t have much choice: Cross his fingers and send in the freshmen.

“I was really concerned because it was their first road game in a tough environment,” Dutcher said. “That’s why I felt like the lead was so important. If Illinois State could have got over the hump on us and made it one-possession game, then maybe the freshmen would have seized up a little bit.”

They never did. Nathan Mensah had 10 rebounds – after getting 11 against Jackson State on Tuesday – in 23 minutes. Aguek Arop had seven points and four rebounds in 12 productive minutes.

But the real key was the defense, putting smaller players like Schakel and Hemsley on the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Yarbrough to take away his drives and then sending double teams when he got it in the post.

Illinois State shot 31 percent and had only five treys after making 13 against BYU, never able to find enough offensive rhythm to mount a sustained run even when the Aztecs clanked free throws (15 of 26) or turned it over 14 times.

“We just wanted to take it personal,” Watson said, “and look at the guy across from us and say: ‘You’re not better than us.’ I think we did that. We came in here and put on a show.”

Fisher returns to his alma mater
Fisher sat behind the SDSU bench with family who drove up from his hometown of Herrin in the southern part of the state. During a timeout with 7:34 to go, he was introduced on the video board and received a warm standing ovation from the crowd of 6,245 despite the Aztecs leading by 11.

Before the game, Fisher visited with Redbirds sophomore forward Taylor Bruninga, whose uncle, Duane Bruninga, was his teammate on the 1967 team that beat SDSU in triple overtime in the Division II semifinals.

Another crazy connection: Duane Bruninga later became an elementary school math teacher in the area. One of his students was current Mountain West Senior Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly, an ISU alum who also was at the game.

Next up: USD, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Viejas Arena … SDSU completes the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge with a 6-2 record, including two wins against Illinois State … The Aztecs are now 19-1 under Dutcher when holding opponents to 40 percent or less shooting … They’ve won five straight games on Saturdays … Illinois State has two familiar faces on its roster: San Jose State transfers Jaycee Hillsman and Keith Fisher III. Both are sitting out this season as redshirts. The Aztecs faced another former Spartan in the Maui Invitational in Xavier’s Ryan Welage (and yet another, Brandon Clarke, was in Maui playing for Gonzaga) … Several NBA scouts were at the game.