Mountain West NCAA College basketball
Keshad Johnson, steps up against UC Irvine in SDSU’s 77-58 win. Photo credit: @Aztec_MBB, via Twitter

Sophomore Keshad Johnson put on a second-half show at Viejas Arena Friday as San Diego State overpowered UC Irvine in the second half to win 77-58.

Johnson led Aztec scorers with 14 points, and made a highlight reel dunk as SDSU built a 28-point lead at one point in the half.

They also ruled the court on defense, forcing 25 turnovers.

The defense “definitely changed the tempo of the game in our favor,” coach Brian Dutcher said.

The teams played close for most of the first half, until under the four-minute mark. Then, with UC Irvine ahead 25-23, Trey Pulliam hit a three-pointer, and followed it with a lay-up 42 seconds later. 

Matt Mitchell, after a turnover by the Anteaters, made his own three to increase the lead to 31-25, as San Diego State closed the half on an 11-0 run.

The Aztecs went to the locker room up 34-25, but proceeded to made a statement upon their return, pulling away, as they did in their season opener against UCLA.

Johnson went on a two-minute tear, hitting three three-pointers and making one show-stopping dunk off a lob pass by Terrell Gomez.

The forward credited support from SDSU’s coaches for his breakout performance. They “gave me that pep talk to be loose and play your game,” he said.

The Aztecs, at 2-0, offered a balanced attack, as Mitchell scored 11, while Trey Pulliam and Nathan Mensah had nine points each, and Gomez eight. Aguek Arop added seven rebounds.

With the large second-half lead, Dutcher had the freedom to give his freshman players some minutes. Lamont Butler scored five and Keith Dinwiddie Jr. six as they began their collegiate careers.

In the first game at Viejas Friday, UCLA and Pepperdine headed into triple overtime before the Bruins prevailed, 107-98.

San Diego State next plays the St. Katherine Firebirds at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Viejas Arena. SDSU added the game to the schedule after postponing two games scheduled for next week against Colorado State.

The Rams logged two COVID-19 positives to force them off the schedule.

– Staff reports