Bench propels Aztecs to 87-77 victory over Wyoming


Photo by Abraham Jewett

Malik Pope goes up for a shot during the Aztecs 87-77 victory over Wyoming at Viejas Arena on Feb. 14.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

The last time San Diego State men’s basketball faced off against the University of Wyoming this season, the Cowboys were victorious by double digits in Laramie.

This time, back home in San Diego, the Aztecs called for backup.

SDSU (14-10, 6-7 MW)  held a 40-to-one points off the bench advantage, and defeated Wyoming (16-10, 7-6) by a score of 87-77 on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.

“We had a great bench performance tonight,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “They stepped up, playing with no fear. It was great to have that type of production off the bench.”

Sophomore forward Nolan Narain and freshman guard Jordan Schakel both had career highs in points off the bench, finishing with 18 and 14 points, respectively.

“You’re talking about a redshirt sophomore and a true freshman, and they stepped up,” Dutcher said. “Neither one of them plays with any fear at all.”

Narain shot a lights out eight of 10 from the field, while Schakel made a career high four three-pointers on only five attempts.

SDSU as a team made seven of 11 threes in the opening half, and finished 8 of 18 after cooling down from behind the arc as the game wore on.

Narain almost doubled his career high of 10 points – set earlier this season against Washington State – and said that if he plays the way he did tonight he will continue to produce.

“I (went out there and) did my role,” Narain said. “I feel like if I play the way I’m supposed to play and fulfill my role then I feel I’ll be scoring like this pretty much every game.”

The win was nearly wire-to-wire, with the Aztecs trailing for only 32 seconds in the first half before holding off a late Cowboys surge.

Wyoming fell behind by 22 points at halftime, but made it interesting after cutting the lead to 77-68 with five minutes to play on a layup by freshman guard Hunter Maldonado (13 points).

The Cowboys then got as close as eight points after senior forward Hayden Dalton hit the first of two free throws to cut the Aztecs lead to 83-75 with 2:42 to play.

Dalton missed the second attempt and junior guard Justin James (26 points) got the rebound, but Wyoming failed to capitalize on the opportunity after James turned the ball over.

Dalton scorched the Aztecs for 36 points in the team’s first meeting, but failed to duplicate the performance in the less friendly confines of Steve Fisher Court, finishing with 20 points on only five of 15 shooting.

Aztecs senior forward Malik Pope guarded Dalton often, and played aggressive defensive on the Cowboys lanky 6-foot-8 forward.

“I felt like I could use that as my advantage because I know people do that to me,” Pope said. “(Dalton) is slimmer than me so, I might as well turn the tables and just give him a little nudge every now and then and get him off his spot.”

Pope finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and collected his 1000th career point as an Aztec after converting two free throws with 1:24 to play.

“The thing I love about (Pope) is that he always plays unselfishly. He shares the ball, he shoots when he should, passes when he should, and rebounds at a high level,” Dutcher said. “I’m real proud of (Pope) for reaching that 1,000-point club and his performance tonight.”

Senior guard Trey Kell returned for the Aztecs, playing in his first game since injuring his ankle against UNLV on Jan. 27.

Kell had a quiet night in the box score, finishing with six points with four rebounds and six assists, but Dutcher said that he is just happy to have his senior leader back on the court.

“Great to have (Kell) back. It’s the steadiness and the calming influence to have a senior and captain on the floor,” Dutcher said. “He just plays at a different pace than the young kids because he is an older player.”

Kell’s first points did not come until 5:22 left in the first half, when his jumper finished off a 12-0 Aztecs run.

Schakel scored eight points during the run, which gave SDSU a 37-21 lead, and he later hit a shot from behind the arc with five seconds remaining to give the Aztecs a 53-31 advantage at the break.  

SDSU junior guard Devin Watson added 13 points with five assists, while freshman Jalen McDaniels had 16 points with four rebounds before fouling out with 1:47 left in the game.

Wyoming finished the game on 41 percent shooting from the field, and senior forward Alan Herndon joined Dalton, Maldonado, and James in double figures with 17 points.

Next up for the Aztecs is a home date with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who make their way to Viejas Arena for a Saturday matinee on Feb. 15.