Malik Pope returned to the basketball court Tuesday at Viejas Arena after San Diego State completed an internal investigation to see if the senior had committed any NCAA violations.
Pope went on to score 12 points against second-place Boise State and helped San Diego State earn its fifth straight victory by a score of 72-64.
Freshman forward Jalen McDaniels scored 15 points and collected 10 rebounds for the Aztecs while Trey Kell contributed eight points off the bench and led a stellar defense effort against Boise State senior Chandler Hutchinson.
A 6’7” NBA prospect, Hutchinson finished with a deceiving total of 18 points after bricking a ton of forced jumpers and shooting just 4-for-14 from the field.
But the main story was Pope’s return after there was concern he might never wear an Aztec uniform again.
“I think we were all surprised when that story came out on Friday morning, no one more surprised than Malik," said SDSU men’s basketball coach Brian Dutcher. “He kept his chin up, he was truthful, he told us he was innocent, proclaimed his innocence and then went out and proved his innocence."
"Malik breathed a big sigh of relief when I told him this afternoon he would be back in the lineup and playing for the Aztecs. You never know how important something is until it’s taken away from you.”
“I was more understanding than anything, just protect the brand and the name of the school,” explained Pope after the game. “It’s definitely a good feeling to be back out there and get all that stuff out of the way, be back playing again and finish out the season the right way.”
The win helped the Aztecs hang on to the fifth seed in the Mountain West standings and increased their chances of playing an extra game in the upcoming conference tournament.
“Obviously it’s nice to have Malik out there because our chances are enhanced for winning,” added Dutcher. “But… the winning is not the important thing to me in regards to Malik, it’s clearing his name. It’s letting everyone know that this is an outstanding young man that was falsely accused of something.
Many people rushed to judgement, like they have a tendency to do, when we withheld him from a game. Everybody wants to say, ‘suspended,’ and I said at the time that suspension sounds like he’s done something wrong. We withheld him from a game."
"Malik trusted in the coaching staff, the administration and this university," continued Dutcher, "and we’re all grateful for the way this worked out and that Malik Pope will be able to enjoy hopefully one of the finest senior nights we’ll ever see here in Viejas on Saturday.”
SDSU closes out the regular season with a Saturday home game against first place Nevada.