San Diego State men’s basketball took a wobbly first step into the
post Malone post-Malik era on Saturday night — an era the program has ushered in by choice.
Tonight, up in Eugene, Ore., a player mentioned by his coach on a dang FBI wiretap as the recipient of a hundred grand was cleared to play by the University of Arizona.
Tonight, at Event Center at San José State University, a player whose name appeared next to a $1,400 loan on a sports agency’s balance sheet wasn’t even allowed to make the trip.
What a world.
Yeah. We hear you, Max. We hear you.
Fortunately, the Aztecs were graced with the perfect opponent to play the day after an off-the-court gut punch and without their top senior. San José State has won three games all year and probably is going to finish the conference season winless. Its sad little gym, which is smaller than most Silicon Valley Fry’s Electronics locations, appeared to be maybe a quarter full, and that was mostly thanks to the couple hundred Bay Area Aztecs who could be heard audibly on the broadcast.
SDSU did what it needed to do, winning 71-59 as SJSU got the back-door cover on a meaningless 3 at the buzzer. The Aztecs let the hapless Spartans hang around for an uncomfortably long while (they were within 2 inside of 10 minutes) but at no point did it seem we were in for a repeat of last year’s shameful Tulo jersey dude court storming.
If there is a positive in Malik Pope’s absence (note: there is no positive in Pope’s absence) it’s that we get more Nolan Narain in our lives. We all love Nolan Narain! The sophomore Canadian, who has showed flashes of promise this season, garnered his first career start and finished with 8 points and 4 rebounds while drawing a couple of offensive fouls.
A little more seasoning this year, a solid offseason in the weight room, and this guy could be a beast next year. A polite beast, of course. He is a Canadian, after all.
Meanwhile, SDSU’s two freshmen starters did their usual thing. Jalen McDaniels had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 made free throws which counts as a triple-double, I don’t care what you say. Matt Mitchell added 12 points despite being elbowed in the mouth by some gawky dude from Indiana.
Max Montana went off in the second half, hitting 5 treys before fouling out. Trey Kell continued his transformation into a pass-first assist machine, tallying a career-high 9 dimes. He has 29 assists in four games since returning from injury, all convincing SDSU wins. Maybe not a coincidence!
SDSU moves to 9-7 in conference play, and it’s now in the middle of a cluster of four teams fighting for two byes in the Mountain West conference tournament. I’d try to break down some tiebreaker scenarios for you, but I’ve had most of a tin camping mug full of wine so maybe Google it yourself, OK?
SDSU closes out the regular season with home games against second place Boise State and first place Nevada. Sure would be nice to have Malik Pope for those!
Can we please have Malik Pope for those?