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Sellout crowd awaits Redbirds in season opener
Redbirds

Sellout crowd awaits Redbirds in season opener

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The chance to play the basketball season opener with a raucous sellout crowd on the road doesn't intimidate DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. Illinois State's senior guard actually enjoys the idea.

"I feel like it's fun playing in front of a lot of people," said Akoon-Purcell. "I feel like it will be a great experience and hopefully we can start off the season right."

Viejas Arena figures to be rockin' today when the Redbirds take on San Diego State at 9 p.m. The Aztecs have sold out 55 straight games in their 12,414-seat building and are looking for their 56th straight home non-conference win against an unranked opponent.

This is part of the renewed Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge that originally ran from 2009-12. To say it will be a challenge for the Redbirds is an understatement.

Under ISU graduate Steve Fisher, San Diego State's 90-7 home record since the 2009-10 season ranks fourth nationally, trailing only college basketball royalty Kentucky, Kansas and Duke. The Aztecs are 30-1 in their last 31 games at Aztec Arena.

The Redbirds play in front of a hostile crowd every year at Koch Arena in Wichita, Kan., so much of the roster is prepared for that. Junior forward Nick Banyard played two games at Viejas Arena for New Mexico before transferring to ISU.

"It will be cool to see how we respond," said Redbird sophomore MiKyle McIntosh. "The exhibition game (Sunday) helped get us away from our jitters. Maybe for the first 30 seconds we'll be a little nervous or stiff, but we should be fine."

What concerns ISU coach Dan Muller more than the noise is the players San Diego State puts on the floor.

"They're so long," said Muller. "Their wings, bigs and guards are so big and long defending passing lanes and driving lanes close up quickly."

San Diego State thrives on the defensive end. The Aztecs have held 18 of their last 24 opponents to 59 points or less, including 11 foes to 49 points or less in that stretch. That doesn't figure to change much even with the shot clock being shortened from 35 to 30 seconds.

During last season's 27-9 campaign, San Diego State set school records for opponent points per game (53.9) and opponent field goal percentage (38.4).

"As coach has been telling us, we play a similar style (to the Aztecs) and we practice against each other every day. We have to approach the game with the right mindset," said Akoon-Purcell. "I feel it will be an eye opener for us, win or lose, and how we handle the game whether we win or lose."

This will be the first regular-season game on newly-named Steve Fisher Court. Fisher enters his 17th season at the Aztecs' helm with three returning starters.

"We can create (defensive) problems in a variety of ways, not unlike Illinois State," said Fisher. "We play hard and share the ball. We have a good team. How good I don't know. We lost three fifth-year seniors who were invaluable to last year's success."

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson

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