One month ago, Brian Dutcher was a lousy hire. He was in over his head and had obviously lost the locker room. All was lost. #FIREDUTCHER
Lest you think this is some kind of self-satisfied blog version of a subtweet, here’s some Valentine’s Day snark from yours truly which I will now officially own up to.
Nice tweet, dipshit.
One month ago, Trey Kell was a tragic story. The San Diego native was a key part of a vaunted recruiting class that disappointed, producing diminishing returns every single season. The tragedy was capped with a cruel senior campaign that saw him injured and sick and injured again.
Today, the first-year head coach and the hometown senior capped off one of the most stirring comeback stories in San Diego State sports history, beating the New Mexico Lobos in an excruciating-thrilling-horrible-wonderful 82-75 come-from-behind victory in the Mountain West Tournament title game in Vegas. The Aztecs will go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons thanks to an improbable nine-game winning streak that had the kind of redemption arcs you only see in sports movies where the main character is a golden retriever or a field goal kicking mule.
I am, as the kids say, shook.
And it feels fucking incredible.
Where to begin?
Let’s start with Kell, who propelled SDSU’s resurgence as a pass-first distributor, only to resort to a hero ball mentality with the season on the line. Hero ball is usually a pejorative term, but SDSU absolutely needed a hero down the stretch. The Aztecs were down by as many as six points inside of eight minutes to play, and looked positively gassed and unable to cope with the manic press of the scrappy Lobos.
From that point on, Kell was unstoppable, scoring 11 of his season-high 28 points. That included this:
Say, see Jalen McDaniels on the bench up there? About that.
Dutcher, a coach oft-questioned for his in-game strategy, rolled down the stretch with a lineup consisting of: Kell, Devin Watson, Jeremy Hemsley, Max Montana and Kam Rooks. Star senior Malik Pope was riding the pine until the 2 minute mark. McDaniels and Matt Mitchell never made it back in the game at all. It’s hard to fathom having the guts to sit that kind of star power in favor of matchups and hot hands.
But damn it if it didn’t work.
Rooks clogged the lane. Hemsley provided lock-down defense and a pivotal 3. Montana, who had been ice cold all tournament, followed with this absolutely absurd moment.
By the time Pope subbed back in, the unusual lineup had turned in an unreal 17-4 run. Did you know Brian Dutcher has a five-year guaranteed contract? WE ARE OK WITH THIS.
It was a scrappy display of fortitude. SDSU responded to every single gut punch, kept grinding on defense and allowed Kell to do the rest.
In the thrill of the moment, with the adrenaline still flowing, I’d say this is the second most satisfying MWC Tournament game I’ve ever seen the Aztecs play. The first was Steve Fisher’s first, unexpected title with SDSU back on that same court 16 years ago, in a nail-biter over UNLV. Fisher’s protege just made his mark on the program using the same blueprint.
Screw the haters.
SDSU will find out its tournament destination tomorrow afternoon. One month ago, that would have been unfathomable. I’m cool with anywhere. OK, maybe anywhere but Dayton.
But we’ll worry about that later. Now? It’s time to bask.
Have a great evening, all. Drink responsibly.