Aztecs win sixth straight thanks to Schakel’s strong second half

Senior+guard+Jordan+Schakel+attempts+a+shot+during+the+Aztecs%27+77-55+win+over+San+Jos%C3%A9+State+on+Feb.+10%2C+2021+at+Viejas+Arena.

Alexa Oslowski

Senior guard Jordan Schakel attempts a shot during the Aztecs’ 77-55 win over San José State on Feb. 10, 2021 at Viejas Arena.

by Luis Lopez, Assistant Sports Editor

While both of San Diego State men’s basketball’s wins over San José State will be viewed as easy blowouts, it might be better remembered for who the games didn’t feature.

However, injuries on both teams are not the sole reason why the Aztecs (15-4, 9-3 Mountain West Conference) secured a 77-55 win, their sixth straight, against San José State on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.

Both teams came out the gates a bit slow, with SDSU going 36.4% from the field and SJSU shooting 33.3% in the first half.

SDSU junior guard Adam Seiko was a late scratch with a calf injury. For the Spartans, they had to go without the Mountain West’s leading scorer in senior guard Richard Washington (20.7 points per game).

Head coach Brian Dutcher’s team went into the locker room in need of adjustments, and they delivered, shooting 42.5% in the second half while holding the Spartans 23.3% en route to the win.

Here are three observations from Wednesday’s game.

1. Return of the Matt

Senior forward Matt Mitchell looks on the court during the Aztecs’ 77-55 win over San José State on Feb. 10, 2021 at Viejas Arena. (Alexa Oslowski)

After dealing with a minor left ankle injury that kept out of game one on Monday, Mitchell made his return to the court on Wednesday.

He didn’t exactly light it up, as he only scored seven points, going three for 11 from the field in 28 minutes of action.

After suffering the injury, Mitchell was unable to participate in practice, which is what Dutcher believes affected him on Wednesday.

“Matt is in shape, but he’s not in game shape,” Dutcher said. “When you miss three or four practices and a game, I thought he got tired quick.”

To fill in the void for Mitchell, Dutcher subbed in junior forward Aguek Arop, who had originally been questionable with yet another bout of vertigo earlier in the day.

Arop finished the night with four points and six rebounds, but Dutcher felt his presence on the floor helped the Aztecs with their second-half improvement.

“We got (Arop) in there, and like (he) did in the first game, when he got in the game he got a turnover on the press,” Dutcher said. “He’s just an energy guy so he provided good energy for us when he came in the game.”

2. A tale of two halves

Much like game one of the series, the Spartans kept pace with the Aztecs in order to keep things close.

This time that tightness lasted through the entire first half, as SDSU struggled to sink shots and allowed SJSU to stay in the game because of it.

Among those who stepped up in the first half was senior guard Terrell Gomez, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the first 20 minutes of action.

“It’s not often where I get to lead the team like that so I felt like the ball was finding me,” Gomez said. 

Going into the locker room, Dutcher said that he believed that a close game would actually be good for his team in the long run.

“Obviously we haven’t had a close game for a while,” Dutcher said. “I told them this was gonna be good for us, I’d like to be further ahead but this is good for us to have a game with the margins closer at halftime and make some adjustments.”

Coming back out to the floor, the Aztecs started to make more shots and quickly began to separate themselves from the Spartans. 

Just as Gomez did in the first half, senior guard Jordan Schakel stepped up in the second half, as he would score 17 of his 24 points.

Schakel finished his night going eight-of-17 from the field, including six-of-13 from beyond the arc, one of which being his 200th three as an Aztec.

For Schakel, getting out of slumps like he had in the first half all comes down to his confidence in his game, something he felt applied to the whole team.

“I mean, you have to have confidence to play this game,” Schakel said. “I think everyone on this team has confidence.

“I’m definitely proud of our team, our effort seemed a little bit lethargic, myself included, but just to pull yourself out of that and come away with a win, winning is never easy.”

3. A valuable win streak extension

All six of the Aztecs wins on their streak have come by way of blowouts, all of which coming against teams they were favored to beat.

Regardless, SDSU has shot up to 22 on the rankings, which is the highest in the Mountain West conference.

If not for cancellations against UNLV and New Mexico, the Aztecs could very well be atop the Mountain West standings right now.

Instead, they currently sit at fourth with four games left to go in the regular season.

This isn’t to say that a fourth place finish would keep them out of the NCAA Tournament. If anything, the three teams ahead of them (Utah State, Colorado State and Boise State) may just accompany them there.

Consistently strong showings like what the Aztecs have put up lately are exactly what the selection committee would want to see out of an at-large team, as indicated by their rise in the NET (No. 20).

Should the Aztecs not come away from the conference tournament with an automatic bid, this streak is what could help them make it to March Madness regardless.

According to Dutcher, there is even the possibility of another solid addition to the Aztecs resume that could be on the way.

“We’re always currently looking for games and I was texting with a coach today and we’re trying to find a date that works for both teams,” Dutcher said. “If we can find that date we’ll play another game.”

While Dutcher didn’t give out any names, he did confirm that the mystery team is ahead of them in the NET ranking.

Should that opportunity fall through, there is still the possibility of playing against UNLV in the week between the end of the regular season and the start of the conference tournament.

Dutcher said he simply wants the conference to help get as many of its teams as possible into the tournament.

“I hope the league makes a decision that allows the Mountain West to get the most teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Dutcher said. “So if that means we don’t play those games then that’s what I’m in favor of, if other teams feel it’s better to play those games, then that’s what we’ll end up having to do.” 

However, if it were up to him, he said it may be best to avoid the games all-together.

“But in my opinion, we’d be better off not running the risk of playing those games for the teams that are already in solid NET ranking positions to make the NCAA Tournament,” Dutcher said.

Up next…

The Aztecs will get another lengthy layoff before their next game at Fresno State on Feb 18.

Until then, the team will likely keep their eyes glued to what goes on with the teams above them in the conference standings. 

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