Men’s basketball falls 66-60 in close match to rival BYU

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Noelani Sapla

Senior Trey Pulliam (center) attempts a three-point shot during the game against UC Riverside.

by Morgan Prickett, Staff Writer

There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about the rivalry between San Diego State and BYU.

Both teams have discontinued their football matchups with one another until at least 2034, partly due to the fact that BYU will join the Big-12 in 2023. So, the universities’ basketball teams will hope to keep the rivalry alive. 

Friday’s narrow 66-60 defeat to the Cougars marked the fourth straight year the two schools have competed with the plan to continue in the next two years.

The last three matchups between the schools have resulted in two wins for the Aztecs, winning in 2018 (in San Diego 90-81) and 2019 (in Provo 76-71), while the Cougars won last season’s matchup 62-72 in an empty Viejas Arena.

Despite recent success, the Aztecs still trail BYU 25-50 in the all-time series record. When playing in Provo, the Aztecs have had even less success with a 4-30 record.

Throughout the entire first half of Friday’s game, the Aztecs were abysmal from deep. In the season opener versus UC Riverside, the Aztecs shot 2-of-11 from three. Somehow they managed to replicate that shooting as the Aztecs again went 2-of-11 in only the first half. The Aztecs also dropped points at the free-throw line, shooting 42.9 percent from the strike.

“We have to shoot the ball better, we all know that,” Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher said to the media after the game.

Even with the off shooting, the Aztecs kept the entire first half close with their defense and rebounding. The Aztecs led the Cougars in rebounds 20-18 and also managed to grab three more offensive boards. The Aztecs also led the Cougars in steals with three as opposed to BYU’s one.

SDSU had the chance to take a 28-26 lead into the half but senior guards Alex Barcello and Te’jon Lucas hit back-to-back threes to put the Cougars up 28-32. Aztec senior guard Trey Pulliam was able to half the deficit with a two-pointer before the break to a 30-32 lead for the Cougars.

The second half saw little change for the Aztecs as they continued to shoot poorly from three, shooting t 1-11 in the second half from the line. But yet again their defense kept them in it with three steals to the Cougars zero.

“I thought we competed hard enough to keep ourselves in the game and give ourselves a chance to win,” Dutcher said. “We have to execute better at times but I liked our grit. I liked our fight. I liked the way we got on the ball after loose balls.”

For most of the second half, it was hard to determine the winner as both teams went back and forth taking the lead.

It wasn’t until 40 seconds left on the clock, when Barcello dribbled into a jumper on the left elbow, that the game truly looked out of reach. Barcello’s jumper gave the Cougars a 61-56 lead which would ultimately put the Aztecs to bed.

“The keys of the game were trying to contain Barcello, he made the big basket at the end, and to keep Loehner off the glass, and he got the big tip-in at the end,” Dutcher said. “We worked hard all game to prevent those things but in the end, those are the two players that made the plays that kind of sealed the victory for them.

The Aztecs tried to claw back before the final buzzer but it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Cougars 66-60.

The shooting woes of the Aztecs proved to be their fatal flaw. Dutcher emphasized the impact of Barcello’s shot-making on the result of the game but still has faith that his team can find a way out of their shooting slump sometime soon.

“Obviously Barcelo made three of the four threes they had, he’s an elite player. It would’ve been nice to see one of those go in for us when we needed it but our kids work hard and I think that is something that will improve as the year goes on,” Dutcher said.

The Aztecs are back in action at the Viejas Arena on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. to take on Arizona State.

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