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San Diego State wins Diamond Head Classic, finds its mojo

Tournament MVP Zylan Cheatham makes 16 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two statement dunks and a 3-pointer in the final victory against the USF Dons

2016 Diamond Head Classic winners

The San Diego State Aztecs found something in the Hawaiian islands. After pre-season struggles, they decisively defeated Southern Miss, Tulsa and a sharp-shooting San Francisco to become the 2016 Diamond Head Classic champions.

That the Aztecs won isn’t so surprising, but how the Aztecs won was. They employed signature SDSU defense; played a surprisingly aggressive offense, and unleashed a storm of 3’s- a record 29- througout the tournament.

The Aztecs are back, and just in time for conference play.

“We needed that,” said Steve Fisher, after his team won its three games by 15, 19 and 14 points. “We needed that for a whole host of reasons. To win, it makes you feel good. To win and have the first-place trophy, it makes you believe that you can accomplish what way back in August we thought we had a chance to accomplish.”

Trey Kell, Jeremy Hemsley and Matt Shrigley were difference makers. Without question, though, no Aztec rose to the occasion with as much impact as Zylan Cheatham.

While Cheatham has been turning heads for some time, this tournament could very well have been his debut as the Aztecs’ next rising star.

Named the tournament MVP, Zylan Cheatham made 16 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two statement dunks and a 3-pointer in the final victory against the USF Dons. He was the heartbeat of the Aztecs during the tournament.

“He’s a tough cover,” USF coach Kyle Smith said. “He’s such an explosive athlete. He’s relentless. He plays hard, plays with passion, plays with energy.”

They won the final two games without Malik Pope who suffered from pain behind his left knee. Fisher is “optimistic” he can play in the conference opener against New Mexico on New Year’s Day.

The last two times the Aztecs reached the final, in the 2012 Diamond Head and 2014 Maui Invitational, they lost to nationally-ranked Arizona teams in close games.

SDSU becomes the first Mountain West school to win the Diamond Head. It was a big mental boost for the SDSU team to pose for photos after the tournament in Hawaii with the championship trophy and flower leis.