For the first half, it looked like the Aztecs were back to their old form, limiting the Sun Devils offense and making shots. Arizona (2-0) initially dominated SDSU, but around the halfway point of the first half, the Aztecs figured out the Sun Devils’ game plan and went on a scoring streak.
SDSU (1-1) ended the half with a 12-point lead and holding ASU scoreless for roughly the last four minutes of the half.
First-year coach Brian Dutcher knew the ASU’s game would be the first true test for his young team — there are six new players on the squad this year — after easily routing San Diego Christian last weekend. The Sun Devils were picked to finish sixth in the Pacific 12 Conference.
It was the same for the Sun Devils, who rolled over Idaho State, 94-74, in their opener last weekend. San Diego State’s defense is ranked as one of the best in the nation.
But that all went away in the second half. The Sun Devils regained their momentum and went on a 22-2 run to start the second half, making 10 of its first 11 shots within minutes. And the rout was on.
“The strength of our program has always been our defense and it wasn’t there tonight,” Dutcher said. “We knew they were an attacking team, they have excellent guards that really get to the rim and they got there on us in the second half.”
In a scary moment for the Aztecs, Max Montana, who scored 15 points, went down midway through the second half with a knee injury and did not return to the game. Montana also injured his knee last season that required multiple surgeries, but he didn’t injure the same knee this time. He was able to walk off the court on his own power.
“Max has had knee problems in the past, so I think he was worried than anything when he went down,” Dutcher said. “We just tried to calm him down a little bit and had the game been closer and we needed him, (athletic trainer) Sergio (Ibarra) said he was available to come back in.”
Moving forward, Dutcher said the team needs to work on its defense.
“From an X-and-O standpoint, I think the thing that I probably failed on was not treating their bigs with enough respect,” he said. “I mean they did major work on us, usually, we post double a team like that, we didn’t double them.”
Trey Kell recorded his second career double-double with season highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds. He nearly had a double-double in the first half with 14 points and seven rebounds. Malik Pope reached double figures in scoring for the second time this season with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Up next, the Aztecs will face McNeese State at home. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be carried live on Fox Sports San Diego.
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