Kelly Smiley, Photo Editor
Nothing has come easy for San Diego State men’s basketball this season.
Even fielding a full lineup is a challenge right now for head coach Steve Fisher.
But aside from some early struggles, and despite having only eight available players, SDSU was able to cruise to an 81-58 win over San Diego Christian, bringing its record to 2-1.
Missing junior forward Malik Pope, redshirt sophomore forward Max Hoetzel, fifth-year forward Valentine Izundu, sophomore guard Ben Perez and freshman forward Jalen McDaniels, Fisher had to play redshirt freshman forward Nolan Narain and redshirt freshman guard Emmanuel Wilson for 18 and 12 minutes, respectively.
Narain has struggled in limited time this season, and Wilson had yet to step on the floor coming into Wednesday’s contest.
But that did not slow down the SDSU offense, which was much improved.
After shooting 16-56 from the field in their 69-48 loss to Gonzaga, the Aztecs took advantage of the small San Diego Christian lineup, posting a 56 percent mark from the field while scoring 46 points in the paint, both season highs.
Sophomore guard Jeremy Hemsley said that the lack of size should not play a difference in their ability to execute offensively.
“Even if we are facing seven-footers,” Hemsley said, “driving and kicking, penetrating, getting it to the open guys is still something we have to do.”
SDSU improved in that respect, recording 18 assists on the night, a season high, after only 12 in the first two games of the season.
Hemsley, along with junior guard Trey Kell, paced the Aztecs once again, combining for 42 points on 16-22 shooting.
They were just two of four SDSU players to score in double figures on the night.
Redshirt sophomore forward Zylan Cheatham benefited most from the lack of interior defense, posting a career-high 15 points and seven rebounds.
Senior guard Dakarai Allen, who briefly stopped the hearts of the SDSU faithful when he left early in the second half with an apparent leg injury, added 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
Allen said his team was eager to return to Steve Fisher Court after Monday’s blowout loss.
“We couldn’t wait to get back on the floor,” Allen said, “and show what we learned from our last game.”
SDSU, however, didn’t show much improvement early on.
The start of the game was a spitting image of the first half against University of San Diego, as the Hawks flew with the Aztecs for most of the half.
The two teams traded blows, as SDSU opened up a double-digit lead, and San Diego Christian responded with an 8-0 run of its own, cutting the lead to 14-12.
But after the Hawks closed the deficit to 18-17, the Aztecs clamped down on defense, closing out the half on a 19-6 run, at one point holding them without a field goal for eight minutes, to take a 37-23 lead into the intermission.
The first half was a showing of defensive dominance for SDSU, holding the Hawks to 6-27 from the field.
But the second half was much more of the high-flying type of play that the athletic Aztecs have tried to adopt.
“We came out and we had fun in the second half,” Allen said.
The Aztecs shot 18-30 in the second frame, with most of the looks coming from close range.
SDSU took only six three pointers in the half, making two, both from Hemsley.
The Aztecs took advantage of a bounty of Hawks mistakes, running the floor in transition and putting in easy look after easy look.
The same can’t be said for SD Christian, who at time could not make even open looks, such as when sophomore guard Isaiah Milan missed a wide-open fast break dunk, and was called for a technical foul for hanging on to the rim.
When all was said and done, SDSU had forced 17 Hawk turnovers, recording eight blocks and eight steals, helping them to a season-high 32 made shots.
After their struggles against Gonzaga’s zone defense, Hemsley said he was dissapointed that the Aztecs were not able to
“Although everything is a work in progress and it’s something we are getting better at,” Hemsley said, “we feel comfortable having a zone offense or having another team go against us in a zone. I did expect them to go zone, but they didn’t
“I guess they felt they could guard us man-to-man.”
That decision did not pay off, and part of that, coach Fisher said, was SDSU’s changed demeanor at halftime.
“In the second half, we played with more hop in our step,” Fisher said. “We were far from perfect, but we played more ‘I’m really glad to be here’ rather than ‘we have to be here.’ That was probably one of the nice things I saw.”
With all the injured bodies, the Aztecs will have to play with a hop in their step when they face off against UC Berkeley in Sacramento on Nov. 21.