First half scoring run lifts Aztecs to 88-54 win over Kennesaw State

A 19-2 run for six minutes in the first half propelled the Aztecs over the Owls

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Raymond Gorospe

Senior Matt Bradley goes up for a layup against Kennesaw State on Dec. 12, 2022.

by Morgan Prickett, Sports Editor

After a missed opening jump ball by both centers and the game kept close with a two-point difference at the 13:33 mark in the first half, most of Viejas Arena must have thought they were in for a scrapfest. 

But following Kennesaw State senior Alex Peterson’s made free throw to take an early 12-10 lead, the 8-3 San Diego State men’s basketball team responded with a 19-2 run during a six minute stretch in the first half.

An epic block by senior Nathan Mensah as well as a few threes from junior Micah Parish and senior Darrion Trammell helped spark the Aztecs’ run which was capitalized by a sneaky Trammell pick-pocket that found its way to senior Keshad Johnson for an emphatic fastbreak slam. 

“The defense got us going,” said head coach Brian Dutcher.

With five minutes before the end of the half and the Aztecs leading, Trammell attempted to feed off the momentum and stretched for a layup to extend the lead but was blocked. He then caught his own rebound while on the floor and watched the ball swing all the way around the court before making its way back to him for a 3-pointer that lit up the Viejas crowd in the loudest moment all night.

The Aztecs ended the first half with a 14-point lead at 35-25 and ended victorious 88-54 against the 6-4 Owls on Monday, Dec. 14.

Despite the blowout, the game was definitely still a scrappy one. But as senior Jaedon LeDee put it, the Aztecs are “Used to the grind.”

They’ve gone from a Viejas arena record 19-threes three games ago to a much lower 8 of 24 against the Owls.

“We have to find a way to make those open shots when we get them,” Dutcher said. “We had good looks and I think we could have easily made four or five more.”

But neither team shot the lights out. The Owls made eight threes of their own on 23 attempts. Yet outside of percentage behind the arc, the Aztecs grinded their way to a lead in almost every other statistical category. 

They bulldozed their way into the paint with 40 points to the Owls 16, out rebounded the Owls 39-28, scored 14 second chance points to their two, 48 bench points to 22, forced 21 turnovers to their 12 and managed to score 23 fastbreak points to the Owls four.

The Aztecs also dominated in assists, 21-12.

The Aztecs continued to marinate in the momentum from their early run into the second half. They forced a turnover to open the game before junior Lamont Butler brought the ball down the court and made a Kennesaw player touch earth with a killer crossover followed by a tough converted layup. Another turnover followed for the Owls along with a second volleyball-spike block by Mensah to send Kennesaw’s shot wayward.

“As much as I was hoping (the lead) would be 20 at halftime, it was 14 so we had to step on them right away to start the second half,” Dutcher said.

The Owls struggled to find rhythm in the second half. It took a total of 3:50 minutes before the Owls saw their first shot fall through the net.

Despite slowly picking up the pace on offense, the Owls were never able to claw the lead back to an overcomable deficit.

Micah Parrish continued to add to his game-high 19 points with nine in the second half as the Aztecs confidently strutted to victory.

Junior Micah Parrish fights through contact for a layup against Kennesaw State on Dec. 12, 2022
Junior Micah Parrish fights through contact for a layup against Kennesaw State on Dec. 12, 2022 (Raymond Gorospe)

“I always stop at 19 for some reason, I have multiple 19 point games,” Parrish said. “If I feel like I really want to, I could go for it. But I just want to win the game.”

Trammell and Ledee were the only other Aztecs to finish with over 10 points, both finishing with 14. While Mensah led the game’s battle for the boards with nine with Ledee in second with seven.

The meeting between the Aztecs and the Owls was the first-ever in school history, and Kennesaw State is just the fourth ASUN team the Aztecs have played (3-1).

The Owls were the Aztecs’ fourth game in 11 days so a much-needed eight-day rest is in store before playing again on Tuesday, Dec. 20 against UC San Diego.

The Aztecs also recently dropped out of the AP top 25 poll after a 68-61 loss to Saint Mary’s yet the athletes are pushing that poll to the back of their minds.

“That ranking does look good,” LeDee said. “But at the end of the day we’ve got a job to do and if we keep taking care of business we’ll get there.”