The lifting of Malik Pope’s quasi-suspension on Tuesday probably did not change a lot in the grand scheme of things. The San Diego State men’s basketball team is still a long shot to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament (though certainly not as hopeless a long shot as before). It remains out of NCAA at-large contention. It probably isn’t going to make the NIT field, either.
But Brian Dutcher’s decision to reinstate Pope after the conclusion of the program’s internal investigation into the star senior’s borrowing habits did this much: It breathed needed life into Viejas Arena and created a fun, memorable Tuesday night in late February.
And you know, what? I’ll take that.
The crowd tonight was into it, man. The fans cheered Pope lustily during pregame introductions, and stayed engaged throughout the Aztecs’ 72-64 win over Boise State. It was easily the most electric weeknight atmosphere since the Gonzaga game.
You probably don’t know this if you were watching at home, because you are still living in a never-ending waking nightmare involving an Atlantic 10 basketball game going 16 overtimes. St. Bonaventure will be playing Davidson until the year 2267, and the only ones still alive to witness the outcome will be the cockroaches.
Pity the cockroaches.
Fortunately, CBS Sports Network took its viewers out to San Diego in time to give the folks at home a taste of what the rest of us had been watching for more than an hour — one of the worst officiated games of our lifetimes. Look, this isn’t sour grapes, because the Aztecs won and the calls were pretty wretched on both sides. But what even was that?
Tonight there were 46 fouls called, and I’m pretty sure 40 of those 46 were whistled in the final 8 minutes or so. Two of them were called on the Aztecs as they had a player out ahead of the pack on a fast break. And then there was what wasn’t called. In the first half, Pope was called for a travel after a jarring collision with a Boise defender. The contact was either a block or a charge, but it sure as fuck wasn’t nothing.
I honestly don’t know what a foul is anymore. Mountain West refs have left me a broken man.
SDSU manged to keep Boise State at arm’s length through all the second half whistles and despite a woeful 1-for-16 3-point shooting night. Freshman Jalen McDaniels (15 points, 10 rebounds) notched his eighth double-double, a thing that is happening with such frequency that it’s barely even notable anymore.
Pope scored 12 points on an off shooting night following his 1-game absence, but he did make two massive plays down the stretch. He was on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Trey Kell that put SDSU up six points with 1:25 left, and then corralled a rebound off a McDaniels miss with 35 ticks left that put the game on ice. Welcome back, Malik.
Devin Watson added 13 points and 4 assists. SDSU’s defense forced 17 Boise State turnovers and a 39 percent shooting night.
With the win, SDSU (18-10, 10-7 Mountain West) is now alone in fifth place — the exact position it needs to secure a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament. Wyoming is only a half game behind with a home game against Air Force tomorrow and a road game at Boise State on Saturday afternoon.
The Aztecs finish out their season at home Saturday night against Nevada, as Pope will join Kell in an emotional senior night. There won’t exactly be a conference title on the line, but like tonight, it will be a fun night at Viejas.
Again, after the past few days, I’ll take that.