Pope, Aztecs get big victory against Boise State
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tuesday turned out to be a pretty good day overall for San Diego State’s Malik Pope.
The senior forward got the news in the afternoon that he could play against Boise State, and then scored 12 points and had some big plays in the final minutes to help the Aztecs beat the Broncos 72-64, their season-high fifth straight victory.
“Malik breathed a big sigh of relief when I told him he could play this afternoon,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “We are grateful to have him back and on the floor.”
Pope, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, was held out of Saturday night’s game at San Jose State after his name appeared in documents that are part of a federal investigation into college basketball corruption. SDSU said an internal investigation cleared Pope.
“I knew everything would be taken care of eventually,” Pope said “It was more, let’s get this process completed. There were some nerves at first. It was a beautiful feeling. You always knew SDSU was amazing and just to know they had my back was great. It was motivating and I really enjoyed it.”
Redshirt freshman Jalen McDaniels had 15 points and 10 rebounds for SDSU (18-10, 10-7 Mountain West), which played smothering defense late in the first half and again in the second half to take control. The Aztecs, who came in tied for fifth with Wyoming, are facing the Mountain West’s top two teams in the final week as they try to improve their seed for the conference tournament. SDSU hosts first-place and No. 21 Nevada on Saturday night.
The Aztecs held Chandler Hutchison to 18 points after he scorched them for a school-record 44 points earlier this season.
“We forced the middle and packed the paint on him and it was tough for him to get a shot off,” McDaniels said. “Trying to take charges, meeting them at the rim, nothing was easy. The last time we were late on help and not building a wall on transition so he could get easy buckets.”
After McDaniels missed a 3-pointer, Pope swooped in for the rebound, Matt Mitchell was fouled and made both free throws to give SDSU a seven-point lead.
Devin Watson scored 13 for SDSU and Mitchell had 11.
SDSU’s defense, particularly on Hutchison, was the difference between this game and the Broncos’ 83-80 victory in Boise in January.
“Every time he got the ball there was five sets of eyes on him, and that makes it tough,” BSU coach Leon Rice said. “And five sets of good, athletic eyes. That opened some things up for us in the first half to make some 3s, and we didn’t make them in the second half.”
McDaniels was whistled for a flagrant foul when he tripped Chris Sengfelder with 4 minutes to go, negating a breakaway layup by Mitchell. Sengfelder made one of two free throws to pull the Broncos to 63-56.On the ensuing possession, Hutchison was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws.
BSU led 43-42 on Hutchison’s basket three minutes into the second half before SDSU tightened up on defense and went ahead.
SDSU led 38-37 at halftime.
Boise State: Hutchison had a completely different game than on Jan. 13 when he went off for 44 points against SDSU. In that game, he went 15 of 21 from the field, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. But he made only 4 of 14 field goals Tuesday night and missed all four 3-pointers. He did make 10 of 15 free throws Tuesday.
San Diego State: Pope was cleared to play earlier in the day after the school said it determined he didn’t receive impermissible benefits. Pope’s name appeared in documents that are part of a federal investigation into college basketball corruption. SDSU said an investigation led by associate athletic director of compliance Andy Humes found no evidence that Pope received any impermissible benefits or violated any NCAA rules. “Based on everything that we learned, we felt very comfortable that Malik was telling the truth,” athletic director John David Wicker said.
Boise State hosts Wyoming on Saturday night in the regular-season finale.
San Diego State hosts No. 21 Nevada on Saturday night to end the regular season.