Three thoughts on San Diego State’s 77-68 win at Colorado State on Tuesday night:
Redshirting players occasionally accompany the team to a conference away game to familiarize themselves with the unique rhythms of the road in the Mountain West. They’ll work with the scout team during the morning shootaround, rebound balls for teammates during pre-game warmups, wave a towel on the bench, offer to take the middle seat on the flight home.
Jalen McDaniels went to Colorado State with the Aztecs last year. Shootaround finished at Moby Arena, and the team shuffled to the bus for the ride back to the hotel.
Except for the 6-foot-10 forward nicknamed “JBoogs,” who stayed behind with a member of the staff. For an hour. He wanted to work out. He wanted to push himself in the altitude, wanted to feel the burn in his lungs, wanted to be prepared for the following season.
His workout: Sprinting to the opposite baseline and back, catching a pass, shooting a 3, then repeating it, over and over and over with nothing but 8,745 empty green seats watching. Sprint, shot, swish. Sprint, shot, swish.
“I was just getting extra work in, running, preparing,” McDaniels said a year later, after dropping 19 points and 10 rebounds on Colorado State. “I feel like the altitude didn’t even affect me. I could have stayed home and done that (workout), but I wanted to do it here in altitude. It’s tougher that way.”
McDaniels is blessed with size, length, athleticism, balance, agility, touch. But a lot of guys are. What separates him, what has NBA scouts buzzing about him, is a motor that doesn’t stop running, even when the TV lights are off and the seats are empty.
And that, in many ways, makes him more dangerous than other players. You can coax the ball out of a player’s hands with a well-executed double team. But when someone is so active on the offensive boards, so willing to run the floor (he got two baskets Tuesday from over-the-top passes on the break), so intuitive about being in the right place at the right time, defensive schemes become irrelevant.
“We don’t run one play for Jalen, and he has 19 points and 10 rebounds,” coach Brian Dutcher gushed about his redshirt freshman. “Players find a way to score. Everybody always says, ‘Are you running a play for me?’ I keep telling them, ‘If I run a play for you, know this: You’re probably going to be a passer. Because everyone knows it’s a play for you and will force you to pass.’
“If I were Jalen, I would hope they would never call a play for me … Jalen just works hard. And it’s good to see him rewarded.”
2. He’s a freshman, too
Lost, sometimes, in the star power of McDaniels and Matt Mitchell is the third member of SDSU’s increasingly productive freshman class: 6-6 Jordan Schakel.
McDaniels has three double-doubles in his last six games and appears to be a permanent fixture in the starting lineup now. Mitchell has started since the second game of the season, is second on the team in minutes played (behind Devin Watson) and already has a 31-point performance.
Schakel has no starts and is averaging 3.2 points.
But there he was last night, subbing in with McDaniels and Trey Kell with 6:15 left in a one-point game. He wrestled a rebound away from two Rams players and then, after Colorado State had taken its only lead of the second half and reinvigorated the home crowd, coolly made a 3-pointer from the left side that swung the momentum back to the Aztecs.
He would grab another rebound before returning to the bench with 1:42 left, among his most meaningful minutes of the season.
“The thing with Jordan is, he does things that aren’t going to show up on the stat sheet,” Dutcher said. “He’s going to battle for the rebound. He’s going to be in there fighting. He made the open 3 late that was really big for us, but there are also the hustle plays, getting on the floor, being in the right place – things that don’t always show up in the stats but show up in winning.”
One column in which you rarely see a crooked number next to his name is turnovers. Schakel had zero again in 15 minutes Tuesday and now has gone since Nov. 26 against Washington State without one, a span of seven games and 77 minutes. He has five turnovers all season and averages 1.0 per 40 minutes, both team lows among scholarship players.
That will get you on the floor, late, in a one-point game, especially when your team coughs up eight turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
“Ball security,” Dutcher said. “For a team that had 16 turnovers, he didn’t have any because he was just trying to do what he was supposed to do.”
3. All together now
Bottom line: Colorado State, without last year’s stars Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo, is just not very good and probably headed for an eighth- or ninth-place finish in the Mountain West.
The mere act of winning shouldn’t be a cause for celebration, then, but the how and where and when could buoy the Aztecs with road games at Boise State, New Mexico and UNLV looming later this month.
Remember, for a moment, how they lost at Moby Arena last year: blowing a 13-point lead but still ahead 55-53 with 9.4 seconds left and CSU inbounding under its own basket.
The Aztecs were supposedly in their base man-to-man defense, meaning they weren’t switching screens. But Zylan Cheatham did anyway — either out of confusion or, as one coach later suggested, “hero ball” — and jumped to Clavell trying for the dramatic steal. That left his man open and initiated emergency defensive rotations that ultimately gave Omogbo a good look at the game-winning 3 on the opposite wing.
On Tuesday, the Aztecs blew an eight-point lead in the second half and trailed inside six minutes to go. And didn’t lose.
They got points on eight of their final 10 possessions and outscored the Rams 18-7. Four of their five baskets were assisted. Five different guys scored. Four different guys had rebounds.
Jeremy Hemsley, who came off the bench for 13 points in 19 minutes, had an interesting take on what was different.
“We were just more together,” the junior guard said. “This is the first team where I feel like everybody is for each other. I’m coming off the bench, and I still want to see my brothers win and I still want to see them play well and make that shot. I don’t think in the past I would have been like that.
“And I think everybody has that mindset, wanting to see the next person play well. With that mindset, it just brings us closer together.”