Watson leads San Diego State to 66-57 victory over Toreros
SAN DIEGO (AP) San Diego State has beaten San Diego 11 times in the last 12 seasons, so the Aztecs don’t really view the crosstown series as a rivalry.
This year’s game had a little different wrinkle in that the Toreros came in undefeated. It was the same result, though, as Devin Watson scored 26 points to lead visiting SDSU to a 66-57 victory Thursday night.
The Aztecs (6-2) only loss to USD in the last 12 seasons came two years ago, when they were stunned in a game played outside at Petco Park, the downtown home of the San Diego Padres.
”It’s just another really hard game for the Aztecs,” coach Brian Dutcher said. ”We’ve played undefeated Washington State, undefeated Georgia, undefeated San Diego, we’re going to play 7-1 Bradley on Sunday, Arizona State, undefeated. So we’ve played a really challenging schedule. It’s not taking anything away from this game in particular, but we’ve already focused on the next one. We’re going to be tested going into the conference and this was a good test for us.”
SDSU was without Trey Kell and Max Montana but still played great defense and overcame 17 turnovers. The Aztecs held USD to 37.7-percent shooting, including 23.3 percent (7 of 30) from behind the 3-point line. The Aztecs shot 46.7 percent.
”We surprised them playing as much zone as we did,” Dutcher said. ”We got by with playing a lot of 2-3 zone, and if you follow the Aztecs that’s not usually our MO. But we’re working on it and I thought it really helped us win the game tonight.”
Watson ”carried us on his back in the first half until the other guys got involved, and then once we got the others involved it got a little easier,” Dutcher said. ”But Devin was absolutely outstanding.”
Said Watson: ”Everyone stepped up. Everyone knew their job and they knew what they had to do tonight. Trey was out, other guys stepped up. It was just a great game overall. Everybody knew how big the game was and we just wanted to get a win.”
USD (5-1) had opened with five straight wins for just the third time since moving to Division I in 1979-80.
”We didn’t play as good as we we’ve been playing,” USD coach Lamont Smith said. ”Give credit to SDSU, but we’ve got to quickly move forward. We’re on a bus tomorrow morning at 9 going to play a very good Santa Barbara team that’s defeated two teams in our league. Unlike football we don’t have to wait a week to prove ourselves again.”
SDSU’s defense forced USD to take long shots.
”We started missing shots from 3 and I thought that really got in our heads,” Smith said. ”We didn’t shoot the basketball like we’re capable of shooting. I thought our defense kept us around a little bit and then in the second half our defense broke down, and again credit to SDSU, they beat us.”
Matt Mitchell scored 13 and Jeremy Hemsley 11 for SDSU.
Isaiah Pineiro led USD with 19 points, while Olin Carter III scored 12 and Isaiah Wright 10.
”We didn’t have our bite tonight,” Pineiro said. ”We didn’t play with as big of a chip on our shoulder as we usually do, and it showed. They’re a great defensive team. They’re long, they’re athletic.”
SDSU lead 30-22 at halftime before letting the Toreros close to 36-32 on a 3-pointer by Wright four minutes into the second half. The Aztecs quickly regained control during a 9-2 run, getting five points from Hemsley and a layup each from Mitchell and Malik Pope to go up 45-34.
SDSU twice took 14-point leads late in the first half, first at 25-11 when Kameron Rooks converted a 3-point play and then when Watson hit a jumper to make it 27-13. USD closed on a 9-3 run, including a 3-pointer by Carter, to pull within eight points at halftime.
San Diego State: The Aztecs were coming off a particularly tough loss to Washington State in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy in which they not only blew a nine-point lead in the second half, but saw Pope and guard Trey Kell suffer injuries. While Pope was good to go Thursday night, Kell missed the game with a sprained right ankle. Pope had six points and nine rebounds.
San Diego: The Toreros had been off to their hottest start since 2013-14, when they also opened 5-0. The only other time USD had that good of a start was 1990-91, when it also won its first five games.
San Diego State returns to Viejas Arena on Sunday afternoon to host Bradley in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.
San Diego plays at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.