In the middle of the first half of Wednesday night in the Viejas Arena, basketball rolled out of hand and under side tables with black tablecloths that stretched to the floor.
Joshua Tomaic, from San Diego state, picked up a tablecloth and couldn’t find the ball. He picked up another and peered under it – no ball. He picked up another – nothing.
He looked at the officers and shrugged.
They eventually found the ball, and the Aztecs eventually found their mojo, which was missing for most of the night.
They still won – they kept playing in the basement of San Jose state, after all – but it wasn’t the wire-to-wire frenzy that the last five games had against the dregs of Mountain West. The end result was 77-55, which extended the overall winning streak to six but ended the five-game run with at least 85 points and a win of at least 27.
It also brought the defending champions (15-4, 9-3) closer to the top of Mountain West, just 1½ games behind first place in Utah (11-2) with at least four conference games left, and possibly an additional non-conference game against an undisclosed team that scored higher than the # 20 Aztecs on the NCAA’s NET metric.
“We’re always looking for games,” said coach Brian Dutcher, whose team won’t be back in Fresno State until February 18. “I texted a coach today and we’re trying to find a date that works for both teams. If we find that date, we’ll play another game. This would be a higher NET team than us. “
The Aztecs got Matt Mitchell back, who played off Monday’s 85-54 win with a sprained ankle. But they lost Adam Seiko, who had a calf injury and was wearing protective boots, and Aguek Arop faces a persistent case of dizziness day after day and even minute after minute that seems to come and go with little regularity or warning.
However, the entire team didn’t seem to have their legs completely underneath. They missed 11 of their first 13 shots and were 3 of 15 behind the arch in the first half. They struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Spartans in ninth place, who played a 1-3-1 zone on Monday and switched between man-to-man and 2-3 matchup zones in the rematch.
In other words, Terrell Gomez, who led the nation with free throw accuracy last year and hadn’t missed any this season, missed one in the first half.
Mitchell also missed a free throw a few minutes later but was redeemed when a San Jose state player was ruled a lane violation. And missed again.
“I felt like we didn’t come with the same aggression,” said Gomez, “as if the energy could have been a little better.”
“We looked a little sluggish, including me,” said Jordan Schakel.
Dutcher got a technical foul in the first half that looked suspiciously like he was trying to get it. He glanced across the field at Referee Mike Scyphers and continued after Scyphers yelled, “That’s it, nothing more.”
That too had a marginal effect. The Aztecs extended the lead to nine, but it was still a three-point game early in the second half when they made a seemingly unorthodox move – by taking Mitchell, their leading scorer who was 1 of 8, ahead of his usual Shift draw ended and replaced him with Arop, who stumbled off the pitch after checking in the first half when his dizziness surfaced.
“Matt is in shape but he’s out of shape if you miss three or four exercises and a game,” said Dutcher. “This was Matt’s first up and down (action) in about five or six days, so I think he got tired pretty quickly. Once he’s back on track with the workout, I think he’ll look a lot better as we move forward. “
Arop averages 10.5 points below Mitchell but is Mr. Energy, and the IV seemed to cure anything that made her sick. When Arop returned to the bench 6½ minutes later, the Aztecs were leading at 20.
“He didn’t do a shootaround today because he felt a little off balance,” said Dutcher. “He went home, rested, came back and said he would warm up and see how he felt. He felt good enough to play, but sometimes it just matters. We’ll get him out of there if it is. And if he tells us he feels good enough to go back in, we’ll give him another break. “
The other thing that happened was that Schakel rediscovered his shooting stroke. After missing six right behind the arch, he made five threes in the second half and finished on 24 points, one more than he scored on Monday.
There is a term in basketball: shooter’s shoot.
“You have to be confident to play this game,” said Schakel. “You have to keep shooting, keep playing, keep being aggressive. Unless you have an aggressive attitude, you shouldn’t be in the field. That’s how I see it. “
The only other Aztecs in the double digits were Gomez (13) and Lamont Butler (11). Mitchell and Tomaic each had seven. Arop only scored four, but the Aztecs were plus-16 points in his 19 minutes on the ground. Keshad Johnson had another highlight, but only rebounded after Monday 13th.
The Spartans (5-13, 3-11) received 22 points from Trey Smith and “only” lost the battle of the boards by 12 after a 54-30 deficit in the first game. But if you shoot 27.5 percent, allow the other team 22 more tries, and only force six turnovers, it doesn’t matter what else you do.
First half result: 33-27.
Second half result: 44-28.
Dutcher said, “I told them at halftime, ‘Yes, I would like to be further up front, but that’s good for us – to have a game where the lead is closer at halftime and we need to make some adjustments … and have that pressure to do better in the second half. ‘I thought we responded well to that. “
Mountain West Secret
The Aztecs have four more games on their schedule, two next week in Fresno state and two at Viejas Arena against Boise state on February 25th and 27th.
The Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas doesn’t start until March 10th, leaving a week to catch up on some, none, or all of the 22 conference games that have been missed so far. SDSU makes four of them, two road series against UNLV and New Mexico.
A conference speaker said the plan was to decide who will play when and where by the end of next week. This is a conversation. The other that is particularly relevant to the Aztecs is whether games that are not played are classified as no competitions or losses.
Missed games with COVID-19-positive cases by players, coaches or employees are not counted as competitions. What is less certain is what will happen to the SDSU series against New Mexico after Lobos turned down last place despite not having any COVID-19 positives in the program. Instead, other issues said their available scholarship holders had dropped below the conference’s pandemic threshold of seven.
“Since it’s not specifically about COVID, we obviously think we should get these games,” said SDSU sporting director John David Wicker ahead of the game on Wednesday. “There is so much more to play, and the way some of these games fall off the board is going to be an interesting conversation. But we know where we are and hopefully it ends there. “
This could be significant as the first tiebreaker to seed in the Mountain West tournament is the conference win percentage and the top four teams are currently only separated by one game in the losing column. If the New Mexico Games are declared no competitions, the Aztecs could finish with a worse percentage of conference wins, even though they have the same number of losses due to fewer games.
No one in the top 5 has canceled or postponed more conference games than the Aztecs. First place in the US state of Utah (11: 2) missed three, in the US state of Colorado (11: 3) two and in the US state of Boise (10: 3) one.
What is being played
“The league needs to put all the data together and think about what this means from a competitive and financial perspective,” said Wicker, noting that the conference’s TV partners may be pressuring to play certain games. “That’s what the ADs will be discussing for the next week or two.”