SDSU defeats Utah State, 79-59, for first conference victory


Photo by Abraham Jewett

Malik Pope attempts a layup during the Aztecs 79-59 victory over Utah State at Viejas Arena on Dec. 30

by Abraham Jewett, Assistant Sports Editor

After turning the ball over with just over two minutes to play, Utah State junior forward Dwayne Brown Jr. went to the bench jawing at San Diego State redshirt freshman forward Jalen McDaniels.

McDaniels responded by simply pointing to the scoreboard.

SDSU (9-4, 1-1 MW) frustrated Utah State (8-7, 1-1 MW) all game long, and legged out a 79-59 victory at Viejas Arena on Saturday night for its first Mountain West Conference victory of the season.

The Aztecs never trailed in the game and held a double-digit lead for the entire second half.

Good bounce back game for the Aztecs,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “We had two good days of practice and we looked like it today when we played.”

SDSU came in trying to avoid an 0-2 start to conference play after the team fell to the University of Wyoming in Laramie on Tuesday night.

The Aztecs led by at least eight points for the final 23:09 of the game and had a 23-8 points-off-turnover advantage.

“(The turnovers) were really important,” Dutcher said. “We wanted to press. We thought we could cut the head off the offense. The turnovers were a bonus for us on that.”

Junior guard Devin Watson led the Aztecs with 15 points, followed by 14 points from junior forward Max Montana.

Montana was playing in only his seventh game after battling early season injuries, and said that he is glad to be back on the court helping his team win.

“I’m finally getting my legs back, finally getting my rhythm… just trying to do the best I can to help this team,” Montana said. “I felt pretty good tonight so that’s a good start.”

The Aztecs led by as many as 21 points in the second half, after senior forward Malik Pope (13 points, seven rebounds) tipped in his own missed shot to give the team a 70-49 lead with 7:11 to play.

Pope attributed the victory to good teamwork on both ends of the floor.

“Just playing together as a unit finding each other,” Pope said. “We definitely did a great job defensively.”

McDaniels joined his teammates in double figures with 13 points and eight rebounds.

The Aztecs jumped out to an early lead thanks to a 15-2 run within the game first 10 minutes, and went into halftime up 43-29.

Utah State was able to keep within relative striking distance thanks to sophomore guard Sam Merrill, who led the Aggies with 18 points, including 13 in the second half.

“I thought they punched us in the mouth pretty well,” Merrill said. “That’s a good basketball team. We didn’t respond and that’s what happened.”

Merrill got his team within 11 points after his three-pointer made the score 53-42 with 13:34 to play, but the Aggies would not get any closer the rest of the night.

Other Utah State players in double figures were sophomore guard Koby McEwen (15 points, seven rebounds) and junior guard DeAngelo Isby (15 points, three rebounds).

Next up for the Aztecs is a road test against Colorado State University on Jan. 2 in Fort Collins, Colorado.