San Diego State finally exorcized its recent demons against Fresno State, prevailing 61-52 on Wednesday afternoon to end the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak at Viejas Arena and remain one of two undefeated teams in Division I.
It was an ugly, sloppy, disjointed game with few offensive highlights. Fresno State didn’t reach 30 points until midway through the second half, but at this point the 13th-ranked Aztecs (14-0, 3-0) will take it without complaint or apology.
Their two best interior defenders and offensive rebounders — starter Nathan Mensah and backup Aguek Arop — were sidelined. And looming on the horizon are the two most taxing trips in the Mountain West, at defending conference champion Utah State on Saturday and at Wyoming the following Wednesday.
“It’s back-to-back road games,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said a day earlier, “which obviously makes the home game that much more important. You don’t want to drop a home game and go on the road for two. That’s always a recipe for a tough stretch. We know what that is. You have to take care of home court in this league and then go steal some on the road.”
Each team was missing a starting big. Mensah wasn’t at the arena with an undisclosed “respiratory issue,” and Fresno State senior Nate Grimes — a double-double machine with a history of big games against the Aztecs — was out with a wrist injury.
That meant the Aztecs started a different lineup for the first time all season, inserting 6-foot-6 sixth man Matt Mitchell and going small. The Bulldogs (4-10) went the opposite direction, giving 7-2 Assane Diouf of Senegal his first career start.
The early story, though, wasn’t about players but the ball. SDSU, which as home team picks the ball, used the new Nike model with a tracking sensor implanted to conform with the Mountain West’s contract with ShotTracker, a system designed to provide real-time analytics to teams and fans.
The Aztecs noticeably struggled to shoot and control the slicker ball in the two previous Division I games it was used, and that continued in the first half Wednesday. At the first media timeout, the teams combined to shoot 1 of 8 and had eight turnovers.
At halftime, they were a combined 4 of 21 behind the 3-point arc.
The teams traded 10-2 runs before the Aztecs created some semblance of separation with a 25-17 margin at the break. They got a stop to open the second half, then Mitchell drew a foul and made two free throws to push the lead to double figures for the first time.
The Bulldogs — who were also without injured senior guard Noah Blackwell — cut it to five with 11 minutes left, but an 11-2 run sparked by a pair of baskets from Mitchell sealed their fate.
Malachi Flynn had 16 points and reached the 1,000-point career milestone with a twisting left-handed layup midway through the second half. Mitchell finished with 15 points and six rebounds in a season-high 35 minutes.
Freshman guard Jarred Hyder, playing his first extended minutes after returning from a knee injury, had a game-high 23 points. But senior guard New Williams, an Auburn transfer, was held to five on 2 of 12 shooting.
at No. 24 Wichita State 75, East Carolina 69: Erik Stevenson scored 10 of his 17 points after halftime for the Shockers (12-1, 1-0 American), who trailed midway through the second half thanks to East Carolina’s Jayden Gardner scoring 20 of his 29 points after halftime.
Jamarius Burton had 15 points for Wichita State while Tyson Etienne and Trey Wade added 11 each for the Shockers.
J.J. Miles scored 12 points for the Pirates (6-8, 0-1 American), and Tremont Robinson-White added 11.
Gardner, who entered the game leading the American in scoring at 20.7 points a game, was 11 of 19 from the floor and had a game-high 10 rebounds.