It's almost 1:30 am Eastern as I write this sentence, so I assume few people on that side of the Rockies watched this game. Those who chose to stay up late to watch, boy oh boy did they make a good decision.
Whenever two rivals meet it is bound to be a good game, even if one is significantly better than the other. Tonight's game saw two rivals, both of which are good, who inhabit the same city, so the stage was set for a fantastic game. The Toreros and Aztecs delivered.
There were seven ties and eight lead changes over the course of the game.
With two defensive minded teams going head-to-head, a low scoring affair would be a reasonable expectation. That was the case early, as it took over four minutes for the Toreros to make two baskets. When they did get to four points, with 15:43 left in the first, the Aztecs had just six.
The scoring picked up over the course of the half. By the end of the first twenty minutes, the two teams were tied 32 all.
San Diego's 5,100 seat Jenny Craig Pavilion was sold out for this game. A sellout makes sense when a ranked, crosstown rival pays a visit. However, last season the "slim gym" averaged 41.0% capacity. It was clear during a pair of Duda Sanadze free throws in the first half that the Toreros faithful weren't the only ones in the building. Watching the game on TV I was able to discern no difference in noise between when the Aztecs and Toreros were at the line. San Diego State isn't the most established program but, "The Show", as their student section is known, is as big-time as it gets.
The second half was all Aztecs. They were not in complete control of the lead for only one possession, 90 seconds into the half.
A slow and steady push by the Aztecs resulted in a game high ten point lead with just under seven minutes remaining. They never managed to get very far ahead of the Toreros though, thanks to clutch plays from the USD backcourt duo of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee.
Anderson, the point guard who typically distributes rather than scores, had a career high 22 points (also the game high). His previous career high in points was 20. Tonight, his 21st and 22nd points tonight came on free throws with four seconds remaining. Clutch.
Dee chipped in 21, including two lifesaving corner threes late in the game that kept the Toreros withing striking distance.
While Anderson and Dee were leading the Toreros' offense late, the Aztecs' offense was falling apart. Josh Davis hit a jumper with about five and half minutes to play that gave San Diego State a 59-51 lead. That would be the last field goal of the game for the Aztecs.
San Diego State kept their lead by making trips to the free throw line. But, scoring just five points in the final five minutes allowed USD to cut the lead to one on multiple occasions. Johnny Dee hit a three that cut it to one with 1:39 left to play. Duda Sanadze hit a pair of free throws to cut it to one with seven seconds left. Then, Christopher Anderson did the same to cut it to one with four seconds left.
Immediately after those two made Anderson free throws, Bill Grier called his final timeout. Coming out of the timeout the Toreros tied up Xavier Thames, who caught the inbounds pass, and a jump ball was called. With the possession arrow favoring the Toreros, USD had a shot to win the game with the final shot.
Duda Sanadze had a nice, open shot from three on what looked to be the first option of the inbounds play. His shot bounced off the rim and the Toreros' put-back attempt came after the final buzzer had gone off. The Aztecs escaped with a 65-64 victory and San Diego city bragging rights.
San Diego, which had been off to their best start as a Division-I program, now falls to 7-3 on the season.
Bill Grier and his staff should have a lot of positives to take away from this game. Their shorthanded team, literally as reserve guard Mike Davis is out with a broken hand, almost upset the #24 ranked San Diego State Aztecs.
Going forward, remember the name Thomas Jacobs. The seldom used junior transfer came off the bench and hustled his way to a team high eight rebounds. In limited minutes, Jacobs has posted the highest offensive rating among Toreros so far this season. Combine that with his effort on the glass, against a good rebounding team, and his role figures to increase.