Aztecs chop down the Highlanders for 66-53 victory


Noelani Sapla

Nathan Mensah throws down a dunk in the second half of San Diego State’s 66-53 win over UC Riverside.

by Jason Freund, Sports Editor

A roaring Viejas Arena? Check. A trash-talking student section? Check

A tense second half that saw an opponent get dangerously close before San Diego State (1-0) ran away with a win? Also check.

The UC Riverside Highlanders (0-1) made it interesting in the second half, starting the half on a 6-2 run. But the Aztecs roared back to life in the final minutes of the half to win their first official game of the season 66-53.

Senior Trey Pulliam and senior transfer Matt Bradley led the charge for SDSU, scoring 15 and 23 points respectively.

Head coach Brian Dutcher acknowledged the performances of the two seniors while praising his offense as a whole for the physical playstyle.

“I thought we were efficient at the offensive end,” Dutcher said. “Against the defense they were playing where they just keep the center back under the basket, I thought Trey Pulliam did a good job getting to his mid-range and I thought Matt did a good job in the paint… we were aggressive getting downhill to the basket and I thought that helped us.

The first points of SDSU’s season were scored on a three-point jumper from Pulliam, but the Scarlet and Black could never pull away from the Highlanders.

UCR’s Princeton-style offense slowed down the Aztecs’ run-and-gun shooting that made them so deadly. Eventually, UCR took an 18-13 lead on a second-chance three-pointer by graduate student Dominick Pickett.

A three-pointer by senior forward Joshua Tomaić and a two-point jumper from UCR senior guard JP Moorman Jr. shifted the deficit to four.

It was at this moment the Aztec offense roared to life.

A 16-2 run spanning five minutes slingshot the Aztec back into the lead and an alley-oop from Bradley to senior forward Nathan Mensah spotted SDSU a ten-point lead at halftime.

However, it wasn’t enough to put away the pesky Highlanders, who stuck around in the second half. With under seven minutes to play, UCR cut SDSU’s lead to just four.

A final 11-2 run in the final minutes of the game put the Highlanders away for good, cemented by Menshah baiting 7-foot-1 junior center Callum Mcree on a pump fake then slipping past him for the dunk.

Bradley — the much-hyped transfer from Cal — had a debut for the ages, going 8-13 from the field with 23 points. The 23 points was the highest made by an Aztec in his debut since Jeremy Hemsley dropped 20 points against Illinois State on Nov. 13, 2015.

While he admitted it was a good game, Bradley felt that he still had some kinks to work out from the past two games.

“I felt good. Saint Katherine, we won by a good margin, but they weren’t no pushovers. Playing in that game, I felt like it was my first game so I was able to get my kinks out,” Bradley said. “Even in this game, I learned that — although I played well — there is still room for growth.”

The defense was as resilient as ever. UCR shot just 39.2 percent with 15 turnovers and only had three offensive rebounds as opposed to SDSU’s seven. 

The Highlanders sent the Aztecs to the free-throw line on 29 occasions after getting whistled for 21 fouls. Despite the Aztecs making just 62 percent of these shots (and players not named Matt Bradley going 11 of 20 from the line)

“If we played downhill like we did today on the dribble, if we are attacking the rim and if we are going to the basket with aggressiveness, then we are going to the foul line,” Dutcher said. “Sometimes, you might say ‘well they only made two threes.’ But the nature of the way we played, going to the basket, we got a ton of free throws and that was the key to the game.”

SDSU will be heading to Provo on Friday to take on the BYU Cougars, who handed the Aztecs their first loss of the season last year by a score of 72-62.