Men’s basketball put a stop to UNLV’s running, open Mountain West Conference play with 62-55 win


Noelani Sapla

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

by Jason Freund, Sports Editor

Brian Dutcher was facing quite the conundrum as his San Diego State Aztecs headed into the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV.

Junior point guard Lamont Butler — who practiced with the team before the game — was a last-minute scratch while senior point guard Trey Pulliam stayed home for “medical concerns” (it is unclear whether he tested positive for COVID-19 or is just quarantining).

Without their two top point guards, the Aztecs shot just 33.8 percent from the floor, made just three 3-pointers and missed six of 12 free throws… and walked off the court with a 62-55 victory in their pockets.

Lacking offensive firepower, SDSU (9-3, 1-0 Mountain West Conference) essentially employed trench warfare tactics against the Rebels (8-6, 0-1 MWC) by playing imposing defense and counterattack when the opportunity presents itself.

The Scarlet and Black bullied the Rebels on the boards, gobbling up 55 total rebounds against UNLV’s 42. The Aztecs also had a season-high 19 offensive rebounds which they cashed in for 16 points.

SDSU also had the advantage in the paint, scoring 30 points while the Rebels only posted 16.

So, how did the Aztecs get such high rebound numbers and dominate within the paint? Well, part of the thanks can go to UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger, who rolled with a four-guard lineup.

UNLV’s propensity for small ball limited their inside game and left them vulnerable to SDSU’s big men wreaking havoc inside the paint.

And wreak havoc they did. Junior forward Keshad Johnson posted his first double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds while the human dunk machine known as senior Nathan Mensah had 10 points on seven rebounds.

It also helps that UNLV — much like the visiting Aztecs — had a poor night at the shooting range, making just 29.7 percent of their field-goal attempts and an even lower 25 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

The high amount of misfires from the Runnin’ Rebels was great for the Aztecs, whose rebounding prowess meant more opportunities to counterattack, scoring 12 fast break points.

Senior guard Bryce Hamilton — one of UNLV’s premier scorers — had 15 points… on 6-of-19 shooting while the SDSU defense limited him to just a perimeter jump shot, which isn’t his preferred choice of shot.

But SDSU’s premier shooters had trouble as well. Mensah had ten points, but it came on 3-of-14 shooting and four free throws. Senior Matt Bradley led the team with 17 points… on 5-of-18 shooting while being noticeably winded throughout the game.

Much of the praise toward the victory goes to the cavalry off the bench. Johnson’s double-double and sophomore Chad Baker-Mazara’s 11 points were a much-needed spark for SDSU. Senior Aguek Arop — healthy after dealing with a plethora of injuries and illnesses — ground out nine points and eight rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes.

Were the Aztecs shooting cold? Yes. Did they play imposing defense while making quick and crafty counterattacks? Also, yes.

The Aztecs are going to find themselves in the trenches the rest of the season against their MWC brethren. Their win against UNLV may just be the blueprint towards future success.