SAN DIEGO (AP) — Undefeated and 13th-ranked San Diego State passed the first test of its toughest stretch of the season when it outlasted old friend Justin Hutson and undermanned Fresno State.
Malachi Flynn scored 16 points and Matt Mitchell had 15 for SDSU, which beat the Bulldogs 61-52 Wednesday to remain one of two undefeated teams nationally.
Mitchell had three big baskets in the second half in his first start of the season and Flynn, a transfer guard, scored his 1,000th career point as SDSU (14-0, 3-0 Mountain West) remains on its hottest start in nine seasons. The Aztecs haven’t been this good since 2010-11, when they opened 20-0 behind Kawhi Leonard and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time before finishing 34-3.
“Someone asked me if I wanted to lose a game to take the pressure off and I said ‘Are you insane?’ coach Brian Dutcher said. “I want to win them all. We like the pressure. We want to keep it on and we’ll see as hostile an environment as anybody in the country when we go to Logan and play Utah State next game.”
Utah State was the unanimous preseason pick to repeat as MWC champion. The Aggies beat the Aztecs 64-57 in the conference tournament championship game to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. The Aztecs missed the postseason.
SDSU and Auburn remain the nation’s only undefeated teams. The Aztecs snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs, who had won their last three games at Viejas Arena.
Jarred Hyder scored 23 for Fresno State (4-10, 0-3), which was without leading scorer Nate Grimes, out with a wrist injury.
Mitchell, starting in place of sophomore forward Nathan Menshah (respiratory ailment) hit a long jumper just inside of nine minutes to go and then drained a 3-pointer for a 46-36 lead.
Earlier in the half, Mitchell had a nice spin-move layup followed by a free throw, and then Flynn made a pretty left-handed layup gave SDSU a 33-23 lead.
“We just played our game,” Mitchell said. “Once you do that and you put all effort into every place, I feel like the result will be what it is. I felt like we came out tonight and we played our game. We do what we’re supposed to do. We executed the game plan and we came out with a win.”
Joel Mensah had consecutive baskets to help give SDSU a cushion after the Bulldogs had pulled within five points with 13 minutes to play.
Flynn and KJ Feagin scored four points apiece during a 10-0 run at the end of the first half that gave the Aztecs a 25-17 lead after they struggled earlier against the Bulldogs.
Flynn started the run with a 3-pointer with 5:14 to go and added a free throw after a technical foul against Mustafa Lawrence. Flynn fed Feagin for a baseline reverse layup, Feagin hit a jumper and Trey Pulliam made a runner.
Fresno State had taken an early lead after 3-pointers by Hyder and New Williams.
Hutson, a former assistant coach with the Aztecs, said it hurt when Orlando Robinson got fouls. He had scored 27 and 25 points in the two previous games.
“Being short-handed with Nate Grimes out, you couldn’t afford Orlando to sit out,” Hutson said. “But we were able to keep it close in the first half and I knew how smart that staff is that they would go at him. So I left him out in the first half and we kept it close.”
Fresno State swept SDSU last year. But the Aztecs have transfers Flynn, Feagin and Yanni Wetzell this year.
“They got old quick,” Hutson said. “In this business, there’s a saying, ‘Never be young.’ That’s a goal. And they got old quick.”
Flynn, a transfer from Washington State, scored his 1,000 career point on a layup with 12:22 to go.
“It’s crazy, I wasn’t really aware of it until they said it in the game,” Flynn said, referring to the announcement over the PA system. “It’s definitely cool to finally reach that.”
Fresno State: The Bulldogs had beaten SDSU five straight times in the regular season, including three straight at Viejas Arena. Hutson had been 2-0 against his former team.
San Diego State: Nathan Mensah missed his first start with a respiratory ailment, forcing Dutcher to change his starting lineup for the first time this season. Mitchell, a junior forward, made his first start of the season. Mitchell was a starter his first two seasons but had offseason knee surgery and has been the sixth man.
Fresno State hosts San Jose State on Saturday night.
San Diego State plays at Utah State, which had been ranked earlier this season, on Saturday night.