Three observations: Aztecs use 36-4 first half run to beat St. Katherine

Senior+forward+Matt+Mitchell+faces+UC+Irvine+sophomore+forward+JC+Butler+during+the+Aztecs%27+77-58+win+over+the+Anteaters+on+Nov.+27+at+Viejas+Arena.

Courtesy of Colleen Humel, SDSU Athletics

Senior forward Matt Mitchell faces UC Irvine sophomore forward JC Butler during the Aztecs’ 77-58 win over the Anteaters on Nov. 27 at Viejas Arena.

by Devin Whatley, Arts & Culture Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball defeated the University of St. Katherine Firebirds 83-41 on Dec. 2 at Viejas Arena.

Even though the score indicated a blowout, the game was tight within the first nine minutes. 

The Aztecs (3-0) only led the Firebirds by one at the 11:13 mark. However, they finished the final ten minutes of the first half with a 36-4 run.

That run led the Aztecs to a 48-16 halftime lead, and they outscored the Firebirds by ten in the second half, leading to a 42-point victory.

Here are three observations from tonight’s game.

1. Surprising start

The Firebirds are an NAIA school, one division below SDSU’s Division I status with the NCAA. For one half, you could almost say both programs were on equal footing. 

The Aztecs were tied with the Firebirds 2-2 at the first media timeout, and even at the 14:48 mark, St. Katherine had a four-point lead.

One of the main reasons why the Scarlet and Black got into such a bad start? Mistakes. 

SDSU had four team fouls within the first seven minutes of the first half. Senior forward Matt Mitchell had his second personal foul five minutes into the game. Foul trouble forced Dutcher to head to the bench early.

The Aztecs also had 26 turnovers in this game. Because of those mistakes, it made this game with a nearby NAIA school from El Cajon competitive – with the Firebirds’ bench in high spirits.

This tight margin wouldn’t last, however. Head coach Brian Dutcher subbed his starters back in when SDSU got its fifth team foul, and they created some separation.

“With our slow start, we had to rely on our defense and our energy,” senior guard Jordan Schakel said. “Especially this year, we’ve got to bring our energy internally.”

Schakel led the Aztecs with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 3-of-6 from beyond-the-arc and hit all five of his free throw attempts. 

Dutcher said after the game that St. Katherine really exposed some areas of improvement for the team looking forward. 

“They showed us some things that we needed to learn today,” Dutcher said. “They showed us a weakness or two that I thought we had at the defensive end and it was a challenge. So, hats off to them.”

2. A freshman steps up

Dutcher has lauded previously the talent of his freshman class, however, they’ve never had the chance to get major minutes on the court due to the depth of the roster. 

Tonight one of them provided a huge lift for the Aztecs off the bench.

Freshman guard Keith Dinwiddie finished tonight’s game with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field. 

Where Dinwiddie’s impact was felt the most for the Aztecs was from beyond the arc, hitting 4-of-8 (50%) on his three-pointers. 

“I told the team at halftime…I’m not surprised that Keith (Dinwiddie) had the most shots on the team at half…that’s a good thing,” Dutcher said. “Keith (Dinwiddie) can score the ball — he can shoot the ball at a high level and create his own shot.

“(Dinwiddie) is gonna score a lot of points in a San Diego State uniform. The key is that he has to help us win when he does that.”

3. Pacing and shooting help SDSU on offense

Before the season, SDSU players have mentioned that they want to be able to push the ball and play at a fast pace on offense. 

That was even more evident in tonight’s game.

At halftime, the Aztecs held a 12-0 advantage against the Firebirds in fast-break points. SDSU finished with a 15-4 advantage by the game’s end.

Senior guard Terrell Gomez, who got the starting nod in place of junior forward Aguek Arop, paced his way to 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown. 

“Now I’m playing both ends of the floor (at San Diego State),” Gomez said. “I may have made some adjustments where obviously…last year, I probably would have scored like 30 (points) on a team like that, but I’m definitely getting better and I’m learning the game.

“As long as I’m able to get on the floor, if it’s going to lead to wins and I can still be productive to my team enough to where it’s at least noticeable, that’s fine for me.”

Up next…

The Aztecs will play their next game against Pepperdine on Dec. 6 at Viejas Arena. Tip-off is at 1:30 p.m.

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