San Diego State cruised to a 79-55 victory over Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne in the opening round of the NIT tournament.
It was a much different game than what the Aztecs had shown in three games in Las Vegas. San Diego State was in control from the start. They were motivated, and played hard in front of a surprisingly strong announced crowd of 8,324 at Viejas Arena.
Just days after nearly recording the Aztecs first-ever triple double (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) against Fresno State, Winston Shepard finally got the elusive stat-line.
The Aztecs pulled away in the second half, pushing the margin to 23 points in the opening six minutes, but knowing it was close, head coach Steve Fisher left Shepard in for the remainder of the game.
It happened, barely.
Shepard pulled in an offensive rebound on Ben Perez’s missed three pointer with 45 seconds left. It was the last stat he needed.
The senior forward finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.
He started the first half with four points, four rebounds, and eight assists in 16 minutes. His coaches let him know he was close in the second:
Malik Pope continued his torrid play, leading the Aztecs with 15 point on 6-10 shooting (3-4 3pt), and grabbed eight rebounds.
One of the biggest differences in Tuesday night’s game was the play of guards Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley. The two combined for just nine points on 2-18 shooting against Fresno State in the Mountain West Tournament Championship, but found their groove Tuesday night.
Kell and Hemsley totaled 17 points Tuesday night on 6-13 shooting.
The Aztecs will host Washington next Monday at Viejas Arena in the second round of the NIT. Game time starts at 8:30.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)