No. 22 San Diego State showed why they are in position to win the Mountain West regular season title in Tuesday’s 77-58 victory over Colorado State.
Playing in their home arena, the Aztecs had six different players score 9 or more points in what was a display of great depth and experience.
Jason LeDee, a transfer forward from TCU, led SDSU in scoring with 14 points off the bench. Nathan Mensah got into quick foul trouble and picked up a pair of personals in the first three minutes of the game, which typically would have been viewed as a win for Niko Medved’s Rams. Mensah is a monster on the defensive end, so any time that you can get the big forward off of the floor, that’s usually ideal. The thing is, LeDee came into the game and reminded us that everyone in SDSU’s rotation could start for the other teams in the league.
Leading 41-26 at halftime, the Aztecs nearly had as much production off the bench as the Rams did as a team (24 bench points). SDSU’s rotational players produced 35 points by the time the final buzzer sounded. It was one of the multiple reasons why CSU never really made any type of significant dent in SDSU’s lead. The Aztecs were just relentless.
Here are the other takeaways from the late-night game.
Aztecs swarmed defensively
From an efficiency standpoint, CSU shot 48% from the floor, which is really pretty good against a defensive juggernaut like SDSU. That was when they were actually able to advance the ball past mid-court or create something in the half-court sets.
The Aztecs consistently went with the full court press, opting to pester CSU’s ball handlers all the way down the floor. And unfortunately for Niko Medved’s squad, on quite a few occasions, SDSU was able to blow up CSU’s offensive possession before they even had a chance to get started.
The SDSU defenders smothered anyone the second that they touched the ball, which was pretty much a problem any time that someone other than Isaiah Stevens or John Tonje tried to create something. There were times where the Rams really looked like deer in headlights.
As a result of that defensive tenacity though, CSU turned the ball over 10 times in the first half alone — a big reason why they went into the break down 15 despite shooting 45% from the floor. CSU finished with 16 turnovers on the night and nine of them were steals by an Aztec defender.
Baptized by fire
As disappointing as it was for Ram fans to stay up late for a 19 point loss — on a side note, 9:00 p.m. tip-offs are like frozen pizza, which is to say that it’s better than nothing but you’d rather have something else — getting overwhelmed by an SDSU squad in Viejas Arena is somewhat of a right of passage in this league.
While you can watch the Aztecs on film and be warned about how aggressive they will be, you kind of have to experience it yourself before you truly understand what it’s going to be like playing in that building.
Tuesday was rough. Blowing the first game in Fort Collins was frustrating as well. While the results were not what anybody wanted though, ultimately this was an experience where some of the key guys for next season were baptized by fire.
Assuming that they are back next year, some of the guys that experienced SDSU for the first time this season, like Patrick Cartier and Tavi Jackson, will be much more ready for the intensity of the matchup moving forward.
The value of continuity
SDSU is one of the most talented teams in the league and they looked like it on Tuesday night. Watching the Aztecs dominate though, I couldn’t help but think about the value of roster continuity.
The Aztecs did hit on a couple of significant transfers, Darrion Trammell is a bucket and LeDee obviously had a big night, but what really makes SDSU so dangerous this year is their experience on the floor together.
The majority of their key contributors are players that have been in the system for years. Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler, Adam Seiko, etc. Everyone on the floor has a role and is comfortable playing with the guy that is next to him. It’s such a massive advantage for the Aztecs, especially as we get into the later stages of the season, when the games get tighter and the moments get bigger.
Obviously CSU has experience on the roster as well, it’s not as if the Rams are rolling out a bunch of freshmen in the starting lineup each night. So don’t read this and take it as an excuse or something like that.
I just wonder what this game looks like in an alternate universe where David Roddy returns for his senior season. It would have been nice to have Josiah Strong and Kyle Evans out there as well.
Tonje and Stevens
It’s tough to feel good about much when your team basically gets dominated from wire to wire, but it’s extremely admirable how hard John Tonje and Isaiah Stevens continue to play for CSU.
The senior guard duo combined for 33 points on an efficient 14-of-25 attempts in the game.
After finishing with 18 points and 15 points, respectively, Tonje and Stevens have both finished with double-digit figures in six straight games. Since the beginning of the conference slate, there have only been two nights where the pair did not both score 10 or more points.
Not much about this season has gone according to script for the Rams. CSU’s most experienced players are producing at an all-conference level though, even if they might not both get the recognition in the end due to lack of team success.
The Rams will have to lick their wounds quickly because Wyoming comes to town Friday night and would love nothing more than to sweep CSU in the season series.
We’ll see what CSU has to offer in the annual ‘Orange Out’ game.