Keshad Johnson triggers Aztec victory over UC Irvine

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San Diego state coaches knew that. The players knew. NBA scouts who attended practice knew that.Now everyone knows it.

Keshad Johnson could be a special player for San Diego State.

The 6-foot-7 second-year forward who wears the number 0 – resembling the letter “O” for his hometown of Oakland – broke for 13 points in under two minutes in the second half on Friday as the The Aztecs opened a previously close match against UC Irvine for an easy 77-58 victory at Viejas Arena.

Consider: Johnson’s former career high was seven years old and he only managed 34 points overall in 18 games last season.

But the potential magically turned into performance when the opportunity arose at 17:05 on the left after starting striker Aguek Arop was whistled for three consecutive fouls. Between 3:59 PM and 2:06 PM, Johnson made three 3s, one lob dunk and two free throws after another dunk attempt.

He finished with a team-high 14 points, four rebounds and a steal in just 17 minutes against preseason favorite Big West, highlighting why coach Brian Dutcher continues to say it could be the deepest team of its two decades at SDSU.

There are the five starters, all juniors or seniors. There is a four-year-old junior and two fifth-year seniors on the bench.

Now you have to worry about a sophomore who averages 1.9 points as a rookie?

“The past year has been a learning process,” said Dutcher. “He was more worried about where he needed to be all the time and trying to please the coaches, and now he’s playing more free. He knows where he’s supposed to be, knows what he’s supposed to be doing, and he’s opened up his attacking game a bit because he’s comfortable.

“It is an honor to Keshad and the work he has done.”

It’s also an honor to the assistant coaches who ruled him out at halftime after missing all three shots he attempted and one of two free throws.

“They basically gave me this pep talk to be cowardly and play your game,” Johnson said. “Once that happened, it gave me the keys to the cash register. It gives me a lot of confidence once you see the ball go through the hoop a few times, once you see you are contributing.

Johnson was 4 of 18 behind the arc last season. He was 3 out of 4 in the second half on Friday.

“We all knew that,” said point guard Trey Pulliam. “Last year he couldn’t get the minutes he wanted because we had a great team. But what Keshad does, we all knew he could do. I mean, we see it every day in practice.

The rest of the box score looked a lot like it was in Wednesday’s 73-58 win over UCLA No.22, with numbers splashed across the roster. Eleven players scored but only two in double digits (11 from Johnson and Matt Mitchell). Nine 3-point facts. Seven had at least two rebounds, nine got an assist, nine had a steal. Ten minutes played in double digits but no more than 25 minutes.

With four minutes to go, SDSU (2-0) had all three freshmen together and Keith Dindwiddie was draining a pair of 3. At 1:18 to go, walk-ons Cade Alger and Jared Barrett joined them.

It provided a much less dramatic vibe than Game One of the day at Viejas, which UCLA won 107-98 in triple overtime against Pepperdine.

The Aztecs shot just 40.3 percent and missed 8 of 22 in the line and were passed 38-31. All it meant was that they didn’t win by 30. They compensated by forcing 25 turnovers – 14 in the first half – which they converted to 26 points.

“The difference in the game,” UC coach Irvine Russell Turner said. “Everyone knows that if you flip it 25 times, you won’t get much success.”

Said Dutcher, whose team forced 40 turnovers in two games: “If you are looking for a theme on the first two games, it’s that we are deep and we are able to take the full court because we have numbers. on the bench. … They do four, five, six minute stretches and they go to the bench, and we bring fresh bodies. It’s a cumulative effect.

The game followed a similar pattern from the openers for both teams here two days earlier.

The Aztecs gave up the baskets on the first two defensive possessions and allowed their opponent a hot start before tightening the screws. And for 15 minutes, the Anteaters looked like the team that won 30 games and upset Kansas State in the 2019 NCAA tournament.

On Wednesday, they led Pepperdine by eight halfway through the first half… and lost 23 in the second half. Against the SDSU, they were still in the lead after 15 minutes… and down 28 to eight minutes from time.

Pulliam started the run 11-0 to close the first half with a 3 drop followed by a bank shot in traffic. Mitchell drained a 3, and suddenly the Aztecs looked like the team that finished 30-2 and No. 6 last season in the two main polls.

It wasn’t enough to rank them this season; they appeared on only three of the 60 or so Associated Press ballots. That could change on Monday when the next one is released and voters see 34-point wins over pre-season favorites Pac-12 and Big West.

“I still think we have our place there,” Dutcher said. “We have a good program. I think we should always have some kind of national respect. But we are used to not being in there and having to play our way. That’s why we have the program that we have. We have a chip on our shoulders and we know that no one ever gives us anything.

“We work for everything we have. We are working again this year.

SDSU schedules two games

The Aztecs announced they would play a pair of local NAIA schools to replace the two conference games against Colorado State scheduled for Dec. 3 and 5 that were postponed when CSU suspended its program for 14 days. Saint Katherine from San Marcos will come to Viejas Arena on Wednesday and to San Diego Christian two days later.

These would fill the other two non-conference slots to a maximum of seven this season.

“We won’t be playing Arizona State until December 10, and I didn’t want that long without any game minutes,” Dutcher said. “Plus these guys are tired of training anyway. … I want to play as much as possible while everyone is healthy and we have the opportunity to do so. We’re just going to have teams that are in town and are already testing, that we know they can play.

Notable

Officials Eric Curry and Randy McCall, who worked on the SDSU game against UCLA, faced the Aztecs again on Friday. They were joined by Deldre Carr… The Aztecs have won 14 straight non-conference games, 11 in a row in November… Johnson has played 20 career games. The SDSU won the 20… The Aztecs got 41 points on the bench… The SDSU was 13 of 32 behind the arc, 12 of 30 inside and 14 of 22 on the line… SDSU rookie Lamont Butler kept UC Irvine freshman DJ Davis, his teammate at Riverside Poly last season… Brad Greene led the Anteaters with 11 points and eight rebounds. Collin Welp and Dawson Baker had 10 points each… Anteaters have a fast turnover, hosting Bethesda College on Saturday night.

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