Aztecs sink Sea Lions 74-45

by Rafael Avitabile, Staff Writer

The San Diego State men’s basketball team ousted Point Loma Nazarene University 74-45 Friday night at Viejas Arena. The game was the only exhibition match on the SDSU schedule before its season officially starts on Nov. 14 in the opening round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

“The team we played, Point Loma, is better than the team you saw,” head coach Steve Fisher said in the post-game press conference. “I think we wore them down with our size, depth, and athleticism.”

Through nine minutes of the first half, the Aztecs and the Sea Lions were squared up at 11. Up to that point, PLNU was 3-5 from behind the 3-point line while SDSU was just 5-15 from the floor with four turnovers.

In the final 11 minutes of the half, SDSU held the 2014 National Christian College champions to just two shots made on 13 attempts, including one of six from beyond the arch. The Aztecs’ stifling defense forced six more turnovers in that stretch, leading to a 21-5 scoring run to end the half. Heading into halftime down 32-16, Point Loma’s chances of a cross-town upset had all but vanished.

The second half was a lot like the first, as the two teams traded baskets for the better part of the first 13 minutes until SDSU went on another run.

The Aztecs had extended their lead by just four points, up 52-32 with 7:27 left to go in the contest before outscoring PLNU 22-13 to end the game. SDSU shot 7-9 from the field during the closing stretch and forced five more Point Loma turnovers.

Junior Winston Shepard, who was listed as one of two starting guards on the official depth chart, started his season in fine form with a double-double on 16 points and 10 rebounds. Shepard displayed an elevated sense of maturity and leadership and it looks like it’s transferred to his play on the hardwood.

“We’ve got a lot of good players on this team,” Shepard said. “It puts a good pressure on me, so I think I have to play like that. Hopefully I can always be in control.”

Shepard finished 7-14 from the field and led the his team in points, rebounds, shot attempts, and pulled down seven of his team’s 16 offensive rebounds.

Although Shepard was named Player of The Game, the most impressive performance of the night might have come from true freshman Trey Kell. During pre-game warm ups, Kell stood in the back of the layup line peeking up at “The Show” on the west end of Viejas Arena. Right on cue, the “I Believe” chant erupted. Kell looked on, straight-faced as usual, and proceeded about his business.

That was Aztec Nation’s first glance at the grit and focus that earned Kell the starting nod at the point guard spot. Kell finished his first collegiate contest with 10 points on 4-8 shooting and his 25 minutes led the team. Not a bad start for the heir apparent to last year’s Mountain West Player of the Year, Xavier Thames.

Three more players made their Aztec debuts Friday night, and all three of them recorded points. Junior transfer Angelo Chol was among the first substitutes off of the bench for Fisher and finished with seven points on 3-5 shooting in 19 minutes. Parker U’U, junior transfer on the SDSU roster, played just three minutes but finished with four points. Freshman Kevin Zabo, who spelled Trey Kell at the point, had five points of his own converting three of four foul shots.

The first round of the Maui Invitational kicks off next week. The Aztecs will open up the season against California State Univeristy, Northridge, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 at Viejas Arena.