Aztecs aim to keep Air Force grounded on senior night

Aztecs senior Malik Pope takes the court against Fresno State. Photo Credit: GoAztecs.com (Ernie Anderson)

The San Diego State men’s basketball team has had its ups and downs this season. After being selected to win the Mountain West conference in the preseason, the Aztecs find themselves fighting for a sixth place finish in the conference alongside Fresno State. The record does not reflect the fight and passion Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher and his squad have put in, as most of the losses were by 10 points or less.

The Scarlet and Black have an opportunity to avenge one of those losses as Air Force travels to Viejas arena for the final home game of the season on Thursday night. The last time these two teams squared off, Air Force walked away with a 60-57 nail-biting win, leaving the Aztecs with a frustrating trip home.

There’s no doubt that this game will a lot of hype around it. It’s not only a revenge game and the last home game, but it’s also senior night in San Diego. Dakarai Allen, Matt Shrigley, D’Erryl Williams, and Valentine Izundu will all be honored pre-game in the starting lineup alongside Malik Pope. Allen, Shrigley and Williams started their SDSU careers during the 2013-14 campaign.

Air Force comes into this game boasting an offense that averages nearly 75 points per game, while the Aztecs average just 69 points per game. The strong suit of this SDSU team has and always will be defense, thanks to the program and philosophy of coach Fisher.

Beneath Fisher’s tutelage, SDSU has allowed just 63 points per game, a tremendous feat in Division I basketball.

Keys to the game for SDSU will be defensive pressure, handling the ball, and keeping the foot on the gas in the second half. The Aztecs have averaged at least a 10-point lead in each of their conference losses this season, and it has been the primary concern among Scarlett and Black fans.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Viejas arena Thursday night. Coverage will be provided live via Twitter from @KCRsports.

Rams batter Aztecs’ shield in the closing minutes, defeat SDSU 78-77

San Diego State men’s basketball fell just short of the mark, as Colorado State University battled back from a 13-point deficit in the second half to beat the Aztecs, 78-77.

CSU senior guard Gian Clavell was the man responsible for the Rams’ game-winning shot, putting the game on ice with a layup with just 3.8 seconds left in the contest.

“Once I saw [SDSU junior forward Malik] Pope kind of reach in, I pulled it up and it went off the backboard,” Clavell said. “Thankfully it went in.”

The Aztecs’ student section wasn’t thankful of Clavell, as the Scarlet and Black faithful dialed their chanting efforts towards him all night. Unfortunately for The Show, their chants only seemed to fuel Clavell’s scoring frenzy.

Clavell’s layup pushed his point total to a career-high 37 points on 14-23 shooting from the floor.

The Aztecs, however, dominated the first half of Saturday’s affair with momentous dunks from both Pope and senior center Valentine Izundu. The two’s efforts helped SDSU build a 10-point lead at halftime.

The Rams, of course, bucked back.

A barrage of three-pointers fueled CSU’s comeback efforts, as the team shot an outstanding 87.5 percent (7-8) from downtown in the second half. With that, the Rams finished the day shooting 55.6 percent (10-18) from behind the arc, doubling the Aztecs’ measly 27.3 percent three-point percentage.

Pope did his best to keep SDSU’s offense afloat, as he led the team in scoring with 19 points. He also picked up a team-high seven rebounds, filling the void of injured sophomore forward Zylan Cheathum.

“Missing Zylan is a big piece, so of course I’ll have to step my game up on rebounding and all the ways that he helps this team,” Pope said. “But we all did that. All five of us. Everyone else on the court, it wasn’t just me. We just had to pick up the slack [in the things] he was really good at. [But we’re] just waiting. Just waiting, hoping he gets back soon.”

Cheathum was a late scratch from the lineup due to a “stress reaction” in his foot. His status will remain day to day.

SDSU’s second half collapse against CSU shares similarities to the team’s 60-57 loss to Air Force on Tuesday. Both games featured an Aztec team incapable of maintaining a lead in the closing minutes.

Though SDSU was able to crash the offensive boards late in the contest, they simply couldn’t push their shots through the bottom of the net in the clutch moments of the game.

Additionally, the Aztecs’ offense left a lot of points off the board because of missed free throws, as the team shot just 67.8 percent (19-28) from the line. Pope went as far as to completely miss the basket on one of the team’s final free throws, one of many SDSU miscues late in the game.

Despite the mistakes, SDSU head coach Steve Fisher believes his team did everything necessary to win the game.

“When you have five turn overs, score 77 points, get to the free throw line 28 times and they are 14, you should win the game,” Fisher said. “And we didn’t.”

The loss adds to the Aztecs’ current downward spiral, as they have now fallen to 11-9 overall and 3-5 in conference play.

Fisher will look to right the ship before the Aztecs’ next home affair against the University of Wyoming on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

Thumbnail/Featured Image: Jan. 28, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Colorado State Rams guard Gian Clavell (3) is defended by San Diego State Aztecs guard Jeremy Hemsley (42) as he shoots. Credit: Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports 

SDSU men’s hoops looking to make a statement against CSU

Aztecs guard Jeremy Hemsley (42) attempts a basket. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) per GoAztecs.com

The San Diego State men’s basketball team has had a tough time living up to the expectations given to them before this season started.

The Aztecs were the favorites to win the Mountain West conference. Outside of a two nationally recognized games (Gonzaga and Arizona State), the schedule was destined for a magical Steve Fisher season like we’ve seen several times in his time at SDSU. However, we are about halfway through the season, and the Aztecs are barely .500, opening the door for a lot of criticism from their hometown fans.

After falling to 10th in the MW conference a couple weeks ago, SDSU quickly rebounded with three consecutive wins in the conference, giving supporters of the Scarlet and Black some hope. The Aztecs, however, suffered another frustrating loss to Air Force, which further pushed SDSU’s title dreams out of the picture.

With 11 games still pinned on the schedule, all hope is not lost for the Aztecs.

Fisher is more than capable of leading SDSU on a prosperous run to close out the season, a run that will start with earning a win in Viejas Arena against Colorado State University on Saturday.

“All we have to do is look at the stats right now, Fisher said. “One game separates those of us with three losses from first place, and one game separates those with three losses from eighth place. So every game is crucial to have a chance to win this league.”

The Aztecs (12-8) will look to climb out of sixth place in the MW with a win over fifth-place CSU (12-8).

Led by redshirt senior guard Gian Clavell (16.3 PPG) and senior forward Emmanuel Omogbo (13.3 PPG), the Rams’ offense has flashed their horns in recent weeks.

SDSU will lean on their backcourt in sophomore guard Jeremy Hemsley (14.9 PPG) and junior guard Try Kell (13.3 PPG) to rally the Aztecs’ struggling offense to new heights.

Additionally, look for SDSU to rely on senior forward Matt Shrigley to spark their offense with some key three-pointers in transition.

The Aztecs’ defense, on the other hand, has maintained its strength this season despite the team’s poor record. SDSU’s defense has held opponents to less than 61 points per game in each of their last four games.

With that, the Aztecs’ defense must again carry the load against CSU’s highly talented offense in order to keep the pressure off the team’s inconsistent offensive attack.

Follow @KCRSports to see live tweets from Saturday’s game starting at 3:00 p.m. (PST).

San Diego State Basketball vs. Arizona State Preview

The San Diego State men’s basketball team will welcome Arizona State to Viejas arena Saturday afternoon for one of the biggest games of the season for both teams.

 The last time these two teams met on the court, the Sun Devils came out with the win 57-54 but the world was a different place; the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, Malik Pope was 14, Kawhi Leonard was still in an SDSU uniform, and the year was 2010. A lot has changed for both teams in the last six years.

The Aztec’s NCAA tournament bid hangs in the balance as this game is a necessary win to keep the dream alive. San Diego is coming off a two game road trip which included surprising losses to Loyola University and Grand Canyon University. With this game being the last big non-conference challenge on the Aztec’s schedule, all eyes are on Coach Fisher and his team.

Arizona State is looking to defy pre season predictions of a last place finish in the pac 12, and they are trying to rebound from a huge loss to purdue 97-64 in the Jimmy V Classic Tournament in New York.

SDSU’s leading scoring, Sophomore forward Jeremy Hemsley, will look to continue his offensive dominance, as he has averaged a team high 18.1 points per game this season. His offensive talent has played a key role in the four wins that the Aztec’s have compiled this season.

The Aztecs come into this game with all starters healthy and ready to battle, and Senior Forward Malik Pope will have national attention on him as he attempts to lead his team to a huge victory on Saturday against the Sun Devils. Not only does Pope dream of an NCAA bid, but the NBA is a very realistic future for the senior, who has been regarded as a lottery pick earlier in his career.

It will be interesting to see how the Aztec defense reacts to a Sun Devil offense that is averaging 84 points a game, but Aztec fans should not fear; Gonzaga, Savannah State, and GCU all averaged 83+ points before they played SDSU and were held under that mark.

 The Aztec’s defense is ranked in the top half of the nation, only allowing 63.8 points per game.

A huge problem for the Aztecs this season is the zone defense. Both losses have come from teams that play zone on defense, and it severely impacts their ability to score the ball. 

Only time can tell if SDSU will step up to the challenge and overcome their weakness.

Tip off in Viejas Arena is at 4 pm PST, and can be watched on CBS or listened to on The Mighty 1090 am. KCR will also be live tweeting the game from courtside at @KCRsports.