SAN DIEGO — Wyoming lost Nathan Mensah under the basket.
Mensah, a freshman making his first career start, turned it into an easy bucket to start for San Diego State. Matt Mitchell knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer on the Aztecs’ next possession. Jalen McDaniels followed with a rather easy bucket in the paint for SDSU before Mitchell was left all alone on the wing for another 3.
Less than 4 minutes in, the Cowboys trailed by double digits. They were down by 14 less than 4 minutes later, and by the time Mitchell drained another one from deep with 2:31 left before halftime, SDSU had a 22-point advantage without breaking much of a sweat.
In other words, Wyoming didn’t give itself much of a chance to stop the bleeding in a season in which the proverbial cut continues to get deeper.
“I just thought our energy and our edge wasn’t there to start the game, and we allowed the 3-point shot,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “And then from there, I just thought it got away.”
SDSU got nearly any look it wanted on the offensive end, cruising to an 84-54 win Tuesday night at Viejas Arena. Three days after sustaining a 24-point loss at Boise State to open their Mountain West slate, the Aztecs (9-6, 1-1 MW) dealt the Cowboys (4-12, 0-3) their worst loss of the season in their 11th straight win over Wyoming at home dating back to 2007.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ three-game losing streak ties their longest of the season. Wyoming, whose 23-point loss to East Tennessee State on Dec. 21 had been its worst before Tuesday, has lost six of its last seven and eight of 10 to fall a season-worst eight games under .500.
It leaves plenty for the Cowboys to work on the next three days before returning to the Arena-Auditorium on Saturday against Utah State.
“We’re not really worried about the wins and losses,” freshman forward Hunter Thompson said. “We’re just worried about trying to be the best we can be as a team and try to grow in areas — defensive transition, rebounding and limiting our turnovers. That’s what we’re really trying to focus on.”
Justin James led Wyoming with 18 points while Thompson added 11 on 4-of-6 shooting, but the Cowboys struggled again to find help offensively outside of the top two scorers in their rotation. TJ Taylor (10) was the only other player to reach double figures for the Cowboys, who shot just 30 percent from the field and failed to eclipse 65 points for the sixth straight game.
But Wyoming’s offensive performance didn’t matter much considering the way it defended the league’s top 3-point shooting team. SDSU, which came in shooting it at a 38-percent clip from beyond the arc, knocked down 12 3s, including nine in the first half. With 38 seconds left before the break, the Aztecs were shooting it better from 3 (64.3 percent) than they were overall (60.3) on their way to a 48-25 halftime lead.
Edwards made the decision when injuries began piling up for his team early in the season to go almost exclusively with a zone defense in part to try to minimize the amount of thinking the Cowboys’ younger players had to do on that end of the court, but Wyoming’s close-outs and rotations were even slower than usual at times. Many of the the Aztecs’ shots were uncontested, and their percentages were nearly identical when it was over.
SDSU shot 50 percent from 3 and 51 percent (29 of 57) from the floor. The Aztecs also took advantage of more sloppy ball handling by the Cowboys, scoring 25 points off 16 Wyoming turnovers.
“It was all on us,” said freshman Trace Young, who went 0-for-10 from the field and finished with two points after averaging 14 in his first three collegiate games. “Coach gave us the recipe, and we just didn’t come out and do what the game plan was. It left a lot of guys open. We’ve got to do a better job of being on edge and know who the shooters are and where they’re at. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Added Edwards, “It requires some intellect, too, at the end of the day and understanding that. But regardless of that, I told them that if you’re ever unsure, just play hard. I just didn’t think that was a part of us tonight.”
Mitchell, who was shooting just 32.7 percent from deep on the season coming in, was the unlikely leader of SDSU’s 3-point barrage, finishing 4-for-4 from beyond the arc for 12 of his 20 points before fouling out with 4:44 left. Devin Watson (4 of 9) and Jordan Schakel (2 of 5) combined for six 3s and 26 points.
“I wasn’t pissed that we gave them up. It was the who that we gave them up to that made the shots and the sense of urgency when we closed out to them,” Edwards said. “Then I thought we didn’t show fight when that was going on. I thought it was more of a victim’s mentality where it was, ‘Well they’re making shots tonight, so it’s their night’ sort of thing. We just didn’t overcome it.”
Add 22 points and 12 rebounds from McDaniels, who finished with seven more points than his season average, and the Cowboys had no answers for anything SDSU threw at them. Wyoming cut the deficit to less than 20 just once in the second half.