No. 24 San Diego State faces Occidental after late escape

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After a tough stretch of games at the Maui Invitational, No. 24-ranked San Diego State will continue a run of six home dates in seven contests on Friday when it hosts Division III opponent Occidental College.

The Aztecs (5-2) dropped hard-fought games to current No. 4-ranked Arizona and No. 11 Arkansas last week in Hawaii, then returned home to kick off a homestand on Tuesday against UC Irvine.

San Diego State escaped, 72-69, thanks to Micah Parrish’s 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining. A steal and free throw by Adam Seiko on the ensuing inbounds play sealed the Aztecs’ win.

“Players are just tired from the flight. It is a long trip,” Aztecs forward Nathan Mensah said.

“You just get back and mostly you think the team that you play next is going to be like an easy win,” he continued. “Looking at UC Irvine, yeah, they have had some solid wins, they are actually 6-1 before they played us.”

The Anteaters’ resume coming in included a rout of preseason Top 25-ranked Oregon, and they embarked on the season as a popular pick to win the Big West Conference.

“The first game after Hawaii is always tough. I have been around long enough to know that. It’s super tough when you schedule a team that is 6-1 and playing really good basketball,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “We made a lot of mistakes in the first half. Offensively too careless with the ball.”

Play in the paint was less of an issue against the Anteaters than in the Nov. 22 loss to Arizona, when the Aztecs surrendered a 36-28 interior scoring disparity. San Diego State outscored both Arkansas and UC Irvine in the paint by two points, but surrendered more points off turnovers in each contest than the Aztecs scored.

Despite that gap in the past two games, San Diego State ranks in the top 40 nationally for turnover percentage, per KenPom.com metrics, ceding possessions 15.8 percent of the time. On the flipside, the Aztecs defense has generated takeaways on 22 percent of opponent possessions.

San Diego State has an excellent opportunity to improve its numbers Friday.

Occidental (2-2) comes in on a two-game losing skid after losing to Pomona-Pitzer on Wednesday, 69-61. Friday marks the Tigers’ second matchup with a Division I opponent this season; the first was a 106-30 blowout loss on Nov. 19 at UC Riverside.

Anthony Hollerich and Andrew Waldman, Occidental’s leading scorers on the season, each finished with four points against Riverside Hollerich posted 32 points in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Caltech and 15 in the loss to Pomona-Pitzer, while Waldman went for 15 points against Pomona-Pitzer.

Friday marks San Diego State’s first in-season matchup against a lower-division opponent since blasting San Diego Christian during the 2019-20 season, 92-48.

–Field Level Media

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