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Story and photos by Liz Alper

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January 14, 2017 (San Diego) - After picking up their first win of conference play on Tuesday against San Jose State, the San Diego State Aztecs men's basketball team wrapped up their two-game home stand tonight against Utah State.

Though the Aggies were proficient at hitting the long ball, they forgot that every single Aztec was healthy tonight, including sophomore guard Jeremy Hemsley.  He and his other healthy Aztecs teammates got SDSU out to a 17-11 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half.

It was an entirely different Aztecs team than the one that was in the first two conference games.  More importantly, it was like nothing had changed.  Senior forward Matt Shrigley was raining threes as usual, the Aztecs were staying out of foul trouble, they were rebounding and with 7:38 left in the first half, SDSU found themselves up 31-20.  Even though the Aggies cut the lead to two with a 6-0 run, junior forward Malik Pope hit some clutch twos and kept the Aztecs ahead.  An impressive first half for San Diego State ended with a seven point lead, 41-34.  Shrigley led the way with 11 points in the first half.

Even more peculiar, the Aztecs didn't go on their typical second half collapse.  Right out of the gate, they attacked.  The attack included a fast break and-one from Hemsley, a three from senior guard Dakarai Allen and a layup from sophomore guard Zylan Cheatham and the Aztecs were up 52-34 with 17:40 left in regulation.  But the difference was that they didn't stop attacking.  They kept attacking, kept rebounding, kept defending and it paid off.  Both teams started to rack up fouls in the second half, but the Aztecs managed to stay out in front.  The typical second half complacency returned midway with around six minutes left but disappeared with junior guard Trey Kell’s clutch two.  An impressive performance by the Aztecs gives them a 74-55 win and their second conference win in a row to improve to 2-3 overall in Mountain West play and 10-7 on the season.  The Aggies fall to 2-4 in conference play and 8-9 on the season.  Shrigley finished the game with 14 points.

“I really feel good about the way we won tonight,” head coach Steve Fisher said in his postgame presser. “I thought that our defense created offense early...our defense was the best it’s been against a team that’s averaging 80 points a game in Mountain West I feel good,, our players feel good and now the challenge for all of us is use this to grow, have this now as our new baseline and get better.  Two in a row needs to lead to three in row on Tuesday in Vegas.”

“I felt good,” said Pope, who is coming back from a knee injury. “I was a little fatigued around the last five to seven minutes, but other than that, I felt great.”

"We came out flat second half, that's just the truth," Shrigley said, speaking of the Aztecs' last few conference games in which SDSU gave up the lead in the second half. "we made it a point to get out there earlier, get the game going and start the second half like we start the first half."

The Aztecs head out on the road again on Tuesday against UNLV.  Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. and you can watch the game on ESPN3 and listen on The Mighty 1090.

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Postgame notes

Full postgame quotes, including quotes from Utah State

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