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San Diego State vs. Grand Canyon: Aztecs look to rebound after last year’s loss

Can the Aztecs return the favor and top Antelopes on their home court?

NCAA Basketball: Grand Canyon at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Lethargic. Lifeless. Sluggish. Disinterested. Pick an adjective to describe the San Diego State Aztecs basketball team in their loss to Loyola Chicago this past weekend. If you are so inclined you can choose them all. The Aztecs did not show up in Chicago and put their at-large hopes in the committee’s hands with that early season 65-59 loss to the Ramblers.

Now they head to Grand Canyon to play the second game in a home and home with the Antelopes. Their first mission is to escape the desert with a win. And when I say “escape the desert” I mean exactly that. Grand Canyon is quickly gaining attention as one of the most difficult places to play and getting a win in a hostile environment will not be easy.

Mission number two; avenge a 52-45 loss at Viejas last year.

The Aztecs come into this game with some desperation. They need to win this game as another loss will certainly keep them out as an at-large team should they not win the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

San Diego State has a trio of double-digit scorers, starting with Jeremy Hemsley who leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game. Right behind him are Trey Kell (15.9) and Max Hoetzel (10.4). Offensively the Aztecs are balanced with seven players averaging over seven points per contest (Hemsley, Kell, Hoetel, Zylan Cheatham, Malik Pope, Matt Shrigley, and Dakarai Allen). San Diego State will need to shake off the offensive rust that has plagued them in games this year and create easy points.

Against Loyola and Gonzaga the Aztecs often found themselves unable to run their offense against a set defense. Fast break points and points off turnovers will be extremely important for them. Finally the Aztecs will need to take care of the ball. Against Loyola they were uncharacteristically careless with the ball and it cost them.

Grand Canyon comes into the season missing a bunch of players. They are without four starters due to injury and have limped out to a 3-4 start this season. Even though their season has not gone according to plan, they are coming off an excellent performance, a 79-70 loss to Louisville.

In that game their leading scorer DeWayne Russell (27.8 ppg) went off for 42 points. Russell is not a one-man team though, he has a good supporting cast. Fellow starter Joshua Braun is averaging 14.5 points per contest, while Keonta Burton has been coming off the bench and averaging 10.1 points. The Antelopes turn the ball over nearly 13 times per game, which should play into the Aztec defensive pressure.

Expect to see Allen on Russell in order to force the other Antelopes to score. By containing the 5-11 Russell with the 6-6 Allen, it will allow the Aztecs to disrupt the Antelope offense and give the Aztecs an opportunity to do what they do best, hold opposing offenses in check.

The Aztecs depth and the Antelopes lack their of should be a pivotal storyline in this game. San Diego State will need to attack the Grand Canyon starting five, get them in foul trouble, and force their bench to beat them. Deflating the home crowd early will also be key to allow the Aztecs to communicate on the court in a place that is one of, if not the loudest in college basketball. Finally, execution will be paramount and the Aztecs will need to be on their game if they want to escape with a victory.

Tip-off: 6 pm PST

TV: Fox Sports San Diego

Radio: Mighty 1090