SAN DIEGO (AP) - San Diego State got an added bonus as it beat Utah State 70-55 Saturday for its seventh straight victory to open Mountain West Conference play.
Junior forward Matt Shrigley returned for the Aztecs after missing the first 19 games while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. He tore his ACL on July 20 while playing basketball at an off-campus fitness center.
Shrigley missed all three 3-pointers he took Saturday, but his presence fired up the team and the crowd.
Coincidentally, the Aztecs (14-6, 7-0 MWC) had their first blowout win in a while. Jeremy Hemsley scored 18 points and Trey Kell had 15, including 10 in a decisive second-half run.
“It’s the magic touch right here,” Skylar Spencer said about Shrigley, his roommate. “We’ve been struggling without Matt. It’s the magic man. He came back and gave us a little lift.”
Shrigley made his season debut midway through the first half, with the Aztecs leading 25-12. The crowd got excited as he got the ball and put up a long 3-pointer, but it missed.
He missed two more 3-point tries in the final minutes.
Spencer said it means a lot to have Shrigley back.
“I’m with this dude every day, every night,” Spencer said. “I know what he goes through. I know how hard he was working in the summertime just before he got hurt. Something like, that’s a big blow. It just means everything to us. I know it means the whole world to him because we all came here to play basketball. Anytime you get sidelined with something so unfortunate, it hurts. Everybody was hurting for him. Just speechless. He’s worked hard. He’s back on the court finally after all that hard work. “
Shrigley said his goal was to return in January. He dressed for an overtime win against Fresno State on Tuesday night but was ruled out before the game.
“It definitely was fun,” he said. “I’ve been practicing with the guys. And just to be out there for a game with them, it felt good. It was fun to be out there again.”
The Aztecs have seemingly found their stride after struggling mightily at times in December.
“I’m just here to do anything the team needs to help them win,” Shrigley said. “Everyone’s established their role. I just need to come out and do what I’m good at and help the team win.”
Angelo Chol added 12 for the Aztecs, who are alone atop the conference standings.
The Aztecs led by double digits less than eight minutes into the game before the Aggies (11-8, 3-5) outscored them 20-12 the final nine minutes of the half to trail just 37-32 at intermission.
Utah State opened the second half with a 7-0 run to take the lead at 39-37, getting a 3-pointer and a jumper from Darius Perkins and a shot from the key by Julion Pearre.
With the Aggies leading 41-39, Kell scored 10 points during a 12-0 run that gave SDSU control at 51-41.
Kell, coming off a career-high 27 points in the overtime win against Fresno State, made a 3-pointer to give the Aztecs a 42-41 lead. He added a three-point play, two free throws and a layup in the run.
While SDSU took off, the Aggies went cold.
“It was disappointing because I don’t think we’ve ever had the lead here in the second half in three games,” Utah State coach Tim Duryea said. “We were doing the right things, we were making the right play. We were manning the battle on the other end, but miss after miss after miss, and then we fouled them.”
Shane Rector scored 15 for Utah State while Perkins had 13 and Jalen Moore 11.
San Diego took control in the game’s opening minutes with a 9-0 run that included an slam dunk by Zylan Cheatham on an alley-oop pass by Winston Shepard, and a three-point play by Angelo Chol.
The Aggies outscored the Aztecs 20-12 the rest of the half. Rector scored eight points for the Aggies in that stretch, including a 3-pointer. Elston Jones had seven points, including a jump-hook, and Lew Evans hit a 3-pointer.
“We had some stretches today where were very impressive,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “We now need to keep them longer, and our not-so-good stretches shorter. I know we can do both.”
Spencer had four of SDSU’s six blocked shots.
Utah St.: The Aggies lost the season series to SDSU. They lost to the Aztecs at home on Jan. 2, 70-67.
San Diego St.: Spencer and Shepard, both seniors, set the school record for most career conference victories with 46.
Utah State hosts Nevada next Saturday night.
San Diego State is at Nevada on Tuesday night.
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