The court storming was denied, with extreme prejudice.
As the final tenth of a second ticked off in the San Diego State men’s basketball team’s 72-70 upset of No. 12 Gonzaga on Thursday night at Viejas, a couple dozen scruffy students made a run at a handful of Elite Security’s finest. The wave was repulsed, with one particularly rambunctious student getting hauled away into the tunnel by the enraged off-brand Pinkertons.
It was honestly kind of a shame. If ever there was a game that deserved a court storming — a sweet release of two and a half years of unrealized expectations and general malaise — this was it.
The Aztecs didn’t beat just any ranked opponent. This was Mark Few’s mid-major blue blood, a reloaded squad that returned two key starters off a team that was 7 points shy of the National Damn Championship just a few months ago. This is easily SDSU’s most significant regular season win since Kansas at Phog Allen in 2014. And unlike that time, I don’t think any of us really saw it coming.
Certainly not a wire-to-wire victory.
No really, this was a wire-to-wire victory. I actually had to look it up, but SDSU never relinquished its lead after going up 11-0 on a flurry of 3s after the opening tip. It’s hard to fathom because the game was so tense and felt like it was on the verge of slipping away at any moment. It was honestly the least enjoyable amazingly awesome game I’ve ever experienced.
On second thought, after watching Jalen McDaniels and Matt Mitchell play tonight, I’ve decided to stick it out for another couple of years.
We’ll start with McDaniels, the wiry redshirt freshman who played hero with a team-high 15 points and 10 boards. His midrange shot and tenacity and athleticism in tangling with the Zags’ imposing bigs helped the Aztecs recover from the usual zone-defense induced doldrums that nearly sunk them before halftime.
Just inside the magical 5-minute mark, it was McDaniels who turned in the exclamation point play that actually convinced the wary sellout crowd that a win was actually, truly possible.
My god, how good is this kid going to be as a sophomore?
I suppose you can ask the same about the freshman Mitchell, who also scored 15 points, hitting three treys and some clutch free throws down the stretch.
Yet don’t overlook the senior, a still gimpy Trey Kell, who nailed down the win by scoring 10 points in the final 3 minutes, including making 8-of-10 high pressure free throws.
It was fantastic defense that put the Aztecs in position in the first place. SDSU forced 16 turnovers and held the Bulldogs, who have scored over 90 points seven times this year, to 49 points before the game became a no-tempo foul-fest with fewer than 4 minutes remaining.
No really, did the Aztecs never trail? I need to go back and check again.
The external significance
With the win, SDSU pulled its NCAA Tournament resume out of the fire — a shocking development after the brutal loss to a brutal Cal squad more than a week and a half ago. Don’t look at how Cal did Thursday night, by the way. Just … don’t.
The Aztecs finish nonconference 8-3 with a great win over Gonzaga, two pretty good wins over Georgia and at USD (seriously), and two pretty bad losses to Wazzu and Cal. Finish in the top three in the Mountain West, and SDSU is probably at least hovering around the bubble.
Do you agree, national talking heads of note?
OMG, guys! They looked at us! (fans self)
The internal significance
It’s no secret that the SDSU student section, save for the hardy souls who make up The Show’s first 10 rows or so, has dwindled as the team has fallen off the national radar over the past couple of years. Likewise, the season ticket holders haven’t exactly been diligent about consistently using their tickets, either. (I know because I was using my buddy’s tickets tonight lol)
It has all resulted in something of an ugly circular firing squad of blame among our fanbase, despite the fact the shrinkage is really just been a natural response to the flagging fortunes of the program.
Maybe this helps stem that tide.
Maybe the students who filled the section and went nuts tonight will decide to return once school is back in session.
Maybe the season ticket holders who sold their seats to Gonzaga fans feel like asses right now and reevaluate their life choices.
Maybe this is the first day of the rest of the Brian Dutcher Era.
Or maybe we should just worry about beating Wyoming and Utah State next week.