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Darrion Trammell remains the final piece of Aztecs’ basketball puzzle

The preseason Mountain West Newcomer of the Year has gone from averaging 18.7 points in two years at Seattle U to just 10.1 at San Diego State

In Darrion Trammell’s final game at Seattle University last season, in the WAC tournament against Abilene Christian, he scored 39 points.

In his most recent game with San Diego State, against UNLV on Saturday afternoon at Viejas Arena, he had zero for the first time in three Division I seasons.

It is a striking reversal for the 5-foot-10 transfer and preseason Mountain West newcomer of the year, and not just from last year to this one but within this one. He opened the season with games of 18 and 21, had 21 against No. 8 Arizona and had 21 in the first meeting with UNLV on Dec. 31. He failed to score in double figures only twice in his last 25 games last season; he’s done it 13 times in 25 games this season.

His career low at Seattle: six points.

His last three games at SDSU: four, five and zero.

“He’s still trying to find his way,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “Sometimes it takes awhile.”

Trammell, in many respects, remains the final missing piece in a puzzle that is starting to come into view — 20-5 overall, 11-2 and in first place in the Mountain West, No. 21 in the Associated Press poll, 17th in the Kenpom metric, 19th in the NET — as the Aztecs take on Fresno State today (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

Matt Bradley has emerged from an early-season slump and on Monday was named Mountain West player of the week after averaging 17.5 points in two games on 72.2 percent shooting. Keshad Johnson is playing the best basketball of his career. Nathan Mensah is coming off a double-double. Adam Seiko is shooting 54.5 percent on 3s. Jaedon LeDee has recaptured his tantalizing early-season form. Lamont Butler has established himself as a perimeter threat.

Get something, anything, out of a guy who averaged 18.7 points in two seasons at Seattle, and you might really have something.

“Just trust the work,” Trammell said recently. “It’s basketball. You’re going to have good nights and bad nights. I just have to keep my head straight. You have to work through it. Sometimes you have to shoot yourself back into rhythm. But it happens. It’s a long season. All that matters is it comes together when it matters.”

If he is frustrated, he hasn’t shown it in his body language at practice or games, or in his answers to the obligatory questions about the adjustment to a new league, new arenas, new teammates, new program, new philosophy. Or even after being ejected for the first time at any level of basketball at Utah State last week.

Trammell openly admits he expected at least some of this. When he met with Dutcher and his staff last spring in Seattle shortly after entering the transfer portal, he said all he cared about was winning, not individual stats. It is what sold them on him.

“I knew what I was coming into,” Trammell said. “I’m surrounded by a lot of good players, so when it’s my night, it’s my night, and when it’s not, I’m willing to accept

that. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get the win. If that’s score three points, I’ll score three points. If I have to score 20, I’ll score 20. But I just give whatever I can to my team. That’s why I came here in the first place.”

San Diego State Aztecs guard Darrion Trammell says he knew there would be some off-nights in a new league.(Meg McLaughlin / U-T)
And to his point: Seattle lost that game when he scored 39. The Aztecs beat UNLV when he scored zero.
There’s enough trust that he is SDSU’s minutes leader, just as he was at Seattle, but the difference is he’s playing 27.5 per game instead of 34.4. When you extrapolate his statistics over 40 minutes, the drop from last season isn’t as pronounced: 20.7 points to 14.6, 15.5 shots to 12.8, 6.0 assists to 5.4.
His turnovers are notably down, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is above 2-to-1 for the first time in his career.
“If the shot’s not falling, I have to figure out a way to impact the game in another way,” Trammell said, “and I feel like that’s been more of my adjustment — assists, defense, bringing some leadership, just holding people accountable, holding myself accountable, keeping us together and being a good point guard.”
The problem, of course, is the shot hasn’t been falling. He is just 5 of 33 (15.2 percent) behind the arc over the last nine games. Even his free throw shooting is off, going from 84 percent at Seattle to 68.8 in conference games at SDSU.
There’s also a step up in size and athleticism from the WAC to Mountain West, where guards are considerably bigger and Trammell sometimes is giving away 40 pounds and six, seven, eight inches.
“He’s missed some open shots,” Dutcher said. “But he also doesn’t have the ball as much. His role in Seattle was the guy who was taking Matt Bradley kind of shots. He was creating. Here, he gets to be offensively some of what he was but last year he was taking a lot more shots, like Matt is. We rely on Matt to make the hard shot. Matt is still getting those opportunities, so Darrion is getting less of them.”
The result is a feast or famine version of Trammell. He averages 10.1 points but rarely does he actually produce that. Only three times in 25 games has he scored within two points of his average. In the others, he’s either scored over 12 or under eight.
“That’s always the fine line with a scoring point guard, when do you go after your own shot and when do you play for the others?” Dutcher said. “Obviously, we like him scoring, we want him scoring. But at the same time, what he brings to the team, he doesn’t need to put up points for us to win.
“If we’re struggling to score, then we need him to put points up. But if other guys are functioning at a high level, keep those guys involved. It’s just the fine line you walk when you’re playing as many guys as we’re playing. We want him to have big games, but he doesn’t have to have a big game all the time for us to win.”
So is there hope?
The rest of the roster says there is. Bradley turned his season around after he got a puppy over Christmas. LeDee figured it out and is emerging as the force everyone expected. Johnson flipped a switch at Air Force last month and his been playing at an elite level ever since. Mensah recommitted himself to his teammates in a players-only meeting and responded with 14 points and 8.5 rebounds in his last two home games. Butler started making 3s at midseason.
“You get so much through a year and you think you are what you are,” Dutcher said. “But we have had an ability over the years to always get better, and maybe getting better means we’ll find a way to get him more productive. He can hit stride at any time. It might only take seeing one shot go in and all of a sudden seven go in.”

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