After its defense collapsed in the second half in the dismal loss to Arizona State on Tuesday, the San Diego State men’s basketball team knew it needed up its defensive game. And upped it did.
With a tougher defense and strong offense, the Aztecs (2-1) vented their frustrations from giving up 90 points and losing by 22 points to the Sun Devils three days ago by pounding the McNeese State Cowboys (2-1), 83-52, Friday night at Viejas Arena. It was McNeese’s lowest scoring so far this season.
Granted, the team that finished last in the 13-school Southland Conference last year wasn’t expected to put much of a fight, but the win did give San Diego State back some assuredness.
“It brings more confidence for our players leading into the next game,” Malik Pope said. “It felt good to see those shots fall in and get the rhythm back.”
After the loss Tuesday, coach Brian Dutcher challenged the team to do better on defense and he liked what he saw Friday.
“A step forward, defensively more than anything else,” he said. “We emphasized it. Obviously, when you give up 90 points, you’re going to emphasize the defense. We emphasize it all the time anyway, but we challenged them. We talked about a level of toughness at the defensive end and you can’t just say you’ve got to play tougher. What does that mean? It means do your job every time. If you’re supposed to help, help. If you’re supposed to run back, run back.”
The Aztecs scored the first nine points and went to 13-2 before a Cowboys run that pulled them within two. SDSU then went on a big run that started with a 3-pointer from Jordan Shackel. Pope then made two free throws, a layup off a steal, a 3-pointer and layup off a pass from Devin Watson — the first of many for the night.
“I’m just happy to have him,” Pope said. “It’s fun, he has a really good IQ on the fast break and knows where he wants the ball and what to do with it.”
Watson transferred from San Francisco this season. He scored 20 points, had four rebounds and one steal before leaving the game midway through the second half because of a leg cramp.
At the end of the first half, the Aztecs were leading 46-19. SDSU never trailed in the entire game and held the Cowboys to 31.3 percent shooting. Only one McNeese player made it to double digits. Quattarius Wilson led the Cowboys with 15 points.
Pope scored 16 points and grabbed a season-high nine rebounds for the night. He has reached double figures in scoring for every game so far this season.
Trey Kell recorded his second straight double-figure scoring with 13 points and two rebounds.
Shackel, whose 3-pointer started the Aztecs’ big run and whose 3-pointer ended the run for the lead in the first half scored eight points, a career-high for him.
Up next, San Diego State will host Eastern Illinois at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Viejas Area. This is the first meeting between the two schools and also the first time the Aztecs hosted a school from the Ohio Valley Conference.
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