After its worst home lost in recent history, 49-43 to Little Rock, the Aztecs men’s basketball team put on a show Monday night against East Carolina.
It was a performance befitting of the team we thought they’d be at the start of the season.
The Aztecs wasted no time in refuting doubters, jumping to a 16-0 lead less than five minutes into the first half. After a dismal shooting performance last Saturday, the Aztecs found their shot, shooting 50 percent from the field, including 6-6 from behind the arc.
They never let up.
San Diego State finished the game shooting 49 percent on 26-of-53 shots, including 41 percent (11-27) from three-point range. The Aztecs dished 17 assists, scored 28 points in the paint, 25 points off turnovers, and notched five blocks and four steals on defense.
It was dominating.
Monday’s 79-54 win won’t mean much in terms of RPI, but its importance in the grand scheme of things is worth far more than just metrics. It was proof the Aztecs are, in fact, a good team, they can shoot, and they can play with attitude.
Look no further than the authoritative dunks slammed by Winston Shepard, Jermey Hemsley, Zylan Cheatham, and Dakarai Allen.
It’s something we’ve yet to see this season. But, hopefully it’s what’s more to come as this young team continues to figure out its identity.
Three things that stood out:
- Head coach Steve Fisher hinted that there would be a different look to this game. There was, in the starting lineup. Mainstays for the last three seasons, Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer, and the highly touted Malik Pope, were on the bench to start the game. Instead, Fisher went with Jermey Hemsley, Trey Kell, Dakarai Allen, Zylan Cheatham, and Angelo Chol. It was both Cheatham and Chol’s first-ever start for the Aztecs. It worked. As mentioned above, the Aztecs came out blazing, jumping to a 16-0 lead with less than five minutes to play. In fact, San Diego State led 22-7 with 13:40 to play in the first half before Fisher made his first substitutions.
- Winston Shepard’s stat line in Saturday’s loss to Little Rock: zero points on 0-6 shooting, including 0-1 at the free-throw line, and four turnovers in 26 minutes. Shepard stat line in Monday’s win over East Carolina: a team-high 16 points on 3-3 shooting, including a staggering 10-15 at the free-throw line, and only one turnover. As much as Saturday’s loss to Little Rock was a wakeup call for this team, it was definitely a wakeup call for Shepard, and he responded. He played with aggression down low, drove to the basket with authority, and dished the ball selflessly. He only had two assists, but a good number of his passes were either first misses from his teammates, or were the start of a flurry of passes that led to eventual points. It was exactly the kind of penetration in the paint the Aztecs need from their senior forward. At one point, shooting free-throws, Shepard missed the second of two and followed up by grabbing his own rebound, and then was fouled on his ensuing shot. He nailed his next two free-throws. Three-point play.
- Sophomore guard Trey Kell was another player the Aztecs desperately needed to get going. Kell hit five of his first eight shots in the first half, including 2-4 from three-point range for a team-high 12 points. He looked tentative at times in previous games but was far more confident against East Carolina. Most importantly, he let it fly on eleven total shots in the game. This, after finishing with just one point on 0-3 shooting against Little Rock.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)