SDSU crushes Cal State San Marcos 86-48 in exhibition

by Ryan Posner, Assistant Sports Editor

It was only an exhibition for San Diego State men’s basketball against Cal State San Marcos Monday night, but there was regular season excitement in what was announced as a sold-out crowd at Viejas Arena.

The Aztecs beat the Cougars handily 86-48, not a small task considering CSUSM has been an NAIA powerhouse that’s gone 62-6 in the past two years and is now transitioning to Division II.

The school publicly unveiled the newly named Steve Fisher Court before the game started. The crowd and both benches gave Fisher a huge reception.

SDSU then put on a performance that was a trademark of the coach whose name now is displayed on the hardwood at Viejas Arena.

“We ran about as well as we’ve run in a long time and it wasn’t wild running, it was running with purpose,” Fisher said. “If we can continue to do this, we’ll be a hard team to guard.”

Unlike years past, this game had the blowout feel that you’d anticipate SDSU to have against a non-Division I opponent.

The pressure was relentless from the Aztecs, as they crashed for every rebound and seemed to be pushing the ball on offense every possession. They grabbed three steals, three blocks and forced two shot-clock violations in the first 10 minutes of the game.

They ended up forcing 23 turnovers. Junior forward Dakari Allen led the team with three steals as he started in place of sophomore forward Malik Pope, who was nursing a knee injury.

Fisher said after the game that Pope would have played if it was a regular season conference game.

Senior guard Winston Shepard led the way for the Aztecs on offense with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“We’ve got a chance to be really good,” Shepard said. “We still have room to get better, though. We missed too many free throws and turned the ball over too many times.”

SDSU wound up with 15 turnovers — Shepard had a team-high of three — and ended with a 59-percent mark from the free-throw line.

CSUSM looked unprepared for not only the Aztec defense, but the by new NCAA rule changes that shortened the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.

Monday also marked the anticipated debut for several Aztecs.

Redshirt-freshman forward Zylan Cheatham made his debut five minutes into the first half and showed off why he was given the nickname, “The Animal.”

Cheatham nearly kissed the backboard on his first defensive possession, grabbing a rebound, then coming up with a huge block his next time down the floor.

“(Cheatham) plays with great energy. At times he tries too hard, but that’s not unnatural for a guy who didn’t play at all last year,” Fisher said.

He then provided the Viejas Arena crowd with its biggest roar of the game, with a hard one-handed dunk on a breakaway midway through the second half.

Freshman point guard Jeremy Hemsley started and the game and passed the eye test as he looked unafraid to shoot and create his own offense.

He had the second-most field goal attempts for the Aztecs with 11, although he was only able to convert on two.

“I think he obsessed over (missing a couple of easy shots), then he tried a little too hard, but (Hemsley’s) a very good player for us,” Fisher said.

A less-heralded debut came from freshman guard Ben Perez, who showed off a smooth 3-point motion, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and ending with 13 points.

“Ben shot the ball with no fear and shot it in,” Fisher said.

CSUSM seem uninterested in attacking the post, chucking up 24 3-pointers, rarely attempting to go inside.

Senior forward Angelo Chol came out of the gates firing, making his first three shots, two coming on identical 8-foot jumpers from the wing. He ended with 11 points, second-most on the team.

“The coaches really put the confidence in me and tell me that I can get the ball down low and score it,” Chol said.

Senior forward Skylar Spencer led the team with 10 rebounds and collected two blocks. He nearly had a double-double, finishing with nine points.

The team’s regular season opener will take place on Nov. 13 against Illinois State at home.