Aztecs 77 – Highlanders 41

The men’s basketball team opened their season on the road Friday night against the San Diego State Aztecs, but poor shooting and an excess of turnovers resulted in an opening day beatdown, 77-41. Despite a strong performance from Taylor Johns, Riverside remains winless against the Aztecs, falling to 0-10 all-time.

The game started sloppily as both teams combined for 18 turnovers in the first 10 minutes. The Highlanders played well enough on defense to be within 10 points for the opening series of npossessions. However, San Diego State had a number of runs, including a 12-2 span over the last 4:14 of the half. Capped off by a J.J. O’Brien jumper at the buzzer, the Aztecs pushed their lead to 25 by halftime, 38-13.

In the first half, the main difference was turnovers and free throws. UCR had nine of their 14 first-half turnovers in the first 11 minutes, which prevented them from capitalizing on their solid defensive play. San Diego State played full court press and tight overall defense, not allowing UCR to get into any shooting rhythm. The Aztecs also went to the free throw line 20 times in the first half, converting on 14. UC Riverside, meanwhile, went only seven times, making none. Add in San Diego shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, and you’ve got quite the deficit.

San Diego State seemed especially focused on stopping Riverside big man Chris Patton, and was quite successful, forcing him to go scoreless in the first half and tallying only two points in the entire game. Taylor Johns had solid numbers at intermission, however, scoring six of the team’s 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds as well. Nick Gruninger and Steven Jones had three fouls, resulting in less aggression from the guards on both ends of the court.

UCR played much better offensively in the second half, scoring more than triple what they scored in the first half. Playing more aggressively, the Highlanders went to the charity stripe nine more times than they had in the first (16-7). Poor shooting continued, though, as UCR made only eight of their 16 second-half free throw attempts. A bright spot for the Highlanders was freshman guard Sam Finley. He scored six of his eight points in the second half, but couldn’t derail the Aztecs’ train as the home team secured their first victory, 77-41.

Johns was the high man for Riverside, scoring 14 points on five-for-11 shooting while hauling in nine rebounds and blocking four shots. San Diego State’s Xavier Thames led all players with 15 points. Friday night’s contest was also the first regular season game for Interim Head Coach Dennis Cutts, who took the place of Jim Wooldridge. The Aztecs proved why they have made it to the NCAA tournament each of the last four seasons while UCR showed that there is still immense work to do for them to compete against elite teams. The Highlanders hope to bounce back Wednesday, Nov. 13 at home against Pepperdine.