San Diego, California - San Diego State hits the road for the first time this season when it faces nationally ranked Gonzaga on Monday night. The 9 p.m. PT game, which is the second of a three-game-in-six-day stretch, is a part of ESPN’s College Hoops Marathon and represents the second time the schools have played in the event (2010).
Both teams come into the game with perfect records after winning their respective season openers on Friday. The Aztecs defeated Gonzaga’s conference mate, San Diego, 69-59, at Viejas Arena. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were 92-69 winners over Utah Valley.
The Aztecs were led against USD by their starting backcourt of sophomore Jeremy Hemsley and junior Trey Kell. Hemsley, the 2016 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, scored a career-high 25 points on a personal-best nine field goals, including a career-tying-high four three-pointers. Kell, a preseason all-MW selection, added 23 points of his own to mark the first time an SDSU duo has scored at least 20 points in a game since Jan. 15, 2012.
San Diego State had five players log at least 28 minutes and six played at least 20 vs. the Toreros, in part because of its injury situation. Projected junior starter Malik Pope (knee), fifth-year senior Matt Shrigley (ankle), who has started 20 career games, sophomore transfer Max Hoetzel (knee) and sophomore Ben Perez (back) all sat out the opener. All told, seven of the eight Aztecs who saw action played a minimum of 16 minutes.
Seniors D’Erryl Williams and Valentine Izundu played an integral role in helping San Diego State dig out of a nine-point first-half hole vs. USD. Williams had both of his steals and Izundu blocked both of his shots in the first half, which ended with the Aztecs leading, 35-33. San Diego was 4-for-4 from the field when Williams entered the game and the senior responded 29 seconds later with a steal. USD ultimately went six straight possessions without a point as the Aztecs clawed their way back into the game. Williams ended with a team-best plus/minus at plus-14.
The Aztecs-Bulldogs match-up features two of the nation’s top teams since the start of the 2010-11 campaign. Oddly enough, that season was the last time these teams faced each other. But since ‘10-11, Gonzaga has the second-best winning percentage (.822) and San Diego State owns the seventh-best effort (.787).
Part of SDSU’s success since 2010-11 has been its ability to play away from home. The Aztecs own the third-best road winning percentage in the country since the start of ‘10-11 at .710 (49-20). On the flip side, San Diego State will try to replicate its 2010 effort when it beat Gonzaga, 79-76, against a Zags program that owns the 10th-best home winning percentage since 2010-11 (.898; 88-10).
The Aztecs’ victory in The Kennel was just the fifth suffered by Gonzaga inside the facility. Since the loss, the Bulldogs are 40-5 at home vs. non-league foes and 86-9 against all comers.
The scene inside McCarthey Athletic Center might be unfamiliar for the Aztec players, but not for the staff as the entire group that was a part of the 2010 victory is still intact. In fact, two players on that team are still with the program as Tim Shelton, who was a junior forward, is the director of player development and Chase Tapley, who was a sophomore guard, has returned to school to finish his degree and is a manager.
Only one player on the active roster has faced Gonzaga and that is Izundu, who had four blocked shots and two rebounds in 16 minutes last season while at Washington State. Guard Devin Watson, who played his first two seasons at WCC-member San Francisco before transferring to SDSU in the summer, scored a career-high 33 points vs. Gonzaga last year.