San Diego State Recap: Aztecs undermanned, outplayed, lose 59-64 to Utah State/
No Matt Mitchell, out of gas.
San Diego State fought to make it competitive, but ultimately were undermanned and outplayed.
Before Saturday’s tipoff, San Diego State knew they were going to be without Matt Mitchell for their second game, but relieved that his leg injury was not significant and only required a few weeks of sans uniform.
Thursday night’s game magnified a few things for the Aztecs. Playing at altitude is a difficult ask for a team that hasn’t traveled more than a bus ride outside their time zone. Tack on the Mountain West’s COVID schedule of adding two games in three days against the same opponent and the student-athletes acclimated to sea level is going to struggle.
Instead of using their in-and-out-of-elevation travel plans of arriving late into the mountains, the Aztecs spent more than 72 hours above sea level.
Read: Dead legs for rebounds and long-range jumpers.
Secondly, the offense doesn’t quite look right as we near the halfway point of the regular season. Malachi Flynn’s departure was meant to hand the reigns over to Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schackel, and Adam Seiko. The returning veteran roster was a big point of the San Diego State’s pre-season favorite to win the Mountain West.
Read: Mitchell, Schackel, Seiko are too inconsistent.
The Aztecs came out on Saturday to adjust for their Thursday night lethargy and were able to go up 10 before the half. But what the scoreboard hides in finer details was Schakel was cold from the arc, only 1/5 on 3-pointers. Going up against Neemas Queta, Nathan Mensah only scored 3 points.
This team was looking for a spark somewhere, and a defensive plug while they were at it because Brian Dutcher played 9 members of his roster. All 4 members of the bench played at least 20 minutes of the game.
For that spark, Terrell Gomez led the Aztecs with 16 points and was 4 /7 on 3-pointers. Despite being shorter than his Utah State counterparts, he found ways to get his stroke back on Saturday. And the defensive plug unexpectedly came from freshman Lamont Butler who came away with 4 steals in the first half and ended with 13 points.
The Aztecs still couldn’t find an answer to Neemas Queta, the 7-footer who could have gone pro, dominated the glass, and recorded a double-double by the end of the game. Mensah looked gassed defending him and Aguek Arop looked lost in the post. Last year, Yanni Wetzel was the better matchup in the post against Queta when Mensah hadn’t been medically cleared to return.
For the Aztecs, the immediate future brings them to 5th place in the Mountain West. Their NCAA Net ranking remains stagnant at 44, but Utah State has now leapfrogged them and their KenPom ranking drops to 42. When it comes to bracketology, teams ranked in the 40s in both the Net and KenPom are bubble teams. So the games against Boise State to close the regular season will mean a bit more.
This isn’t an SOS moment for the Mountain West Tournament, but this is a red flag if the Aztecs can’t course-correct soon.