Early takeaways and observations of this new-look Aggies team
The Ryan Odom Era began in earnest Wednesday night at the Spectrum. Both Utah State’s new coach and the 6,000-plus fans in attendance seemed to like what they saw.
LOGAN — The Aggies are in a bit of a “Yours, Mine and Ours” situation, with new head coach Ryan Odom trying to meld his coaching staff and a couple of his former players at UMBC with a handful of players remaining from last year’s Utah State team and a bunch of fresh recruits.
Wednesday night’s exhibition game at the Smith Spectrum against Montana Western was the first real opportunity for Odom to show off his blended family to USU fans, and for the most part, there was a lot for the crowd of 6,390 to like. And vice versa.
“I’ve said this over and over again, but I was literally a kid on Christmas morning again,” senior forward Justin Bean said following USU’s 81-51 win over the Bulldogs. “Just waking up knowing it’s game day in the Spectrum with a full crowd. Didn’t know how many people would turn up and be there, but we were just so grateful for all that support.
“I’m not sure how many fans showed up, but the student section was definitely high and mighty in the stands. And then we had a lot of good fans everywhere else. Great environment. Again, it’s my fifth year here but every time it feels like it’s different, like it’s new. It’s a new flavor every year. It’s really exciting.”
Bean certainly displayed his big brother skills by leading the way for the Aggies with a double-double — 21 points, 10 rebounds — while his new counterpart, former UMBC star Brandon Horvath, was nearly as effective, totaling 14 points and eight rebounds, while looking very comfortable in his Utah State debut.
Horvath knocked down 6 of his 11 field-goal attempts and Bean went 10 of 15 from the floor to combine for nearly half of USU’s baskets.
“For us, Justin was Justin,” Odom declared. “He’s an impressive player and never quits. At one point I asked him if he needed a break and he said no. I love that as a coach. Even if he is tired, and he’ll let you know and come out of the game, but he played the entire second half until the end. He was tremendous.”
After he was hired last April, Odom said he wanted to see Bean play before he talked to Horvath about coming west because he wanted to make sure the two big men with very different skill sets could play together at the same time. Although Horvath is taller than Bean at 6-foot-10, he was a 5-foo-8 point guard as a sophomore then grew almost a foot during high school and three more inches in college.
“Brandon’s a tough matchup,” Odom said. “But what you didn’t see tonight was his ability to stretch the floor. And to his credit, he didn’t just shoot 3s against a team that was smaller than him. There was a clear focus of, OK, let’s score around the rim and put pressure on them.
“He and Bean, you can tell, they pass to one another. They look for one another. And that’s something that we’ve got to continue to grow.”
Horvath, who was an All-America Conference East first-team selection last year after putting up 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game for the Retrievers, was clearly happy about how things went during his first game action in front of fans at the Spectrum.
“First time ever in the Spectrum; pretty excited about it,” said Horvath, who grew up in Maryland. “I heard a lot about it, but I didn’t really know it by experience. So, I was pretty shocked in the first half when I couldn’t hear anything.”
“I love UMBC and I graduated from there, so I’m not going to talk down on them, but this was way better for sure.” — Brandon Horvath
“I love UMBC and I graduated from there, so I’m not going to talk down on them,” Horvath added, “but this was way better for sure.”
Like Horvath, Eytle-Rock looked like a veteran in his first game action at the Spectrum, going 4 for 7 from the field for nine points, while adding four rebounds and three assists without a turnover in just 22 minutes. And he helped deliver arguably the play of the night for the Aggies, snagging a Montana Western airball and then quickly firing it ahead to Bean for a breakaway slam dunk that capped a 12-0 run for Utah State near the end of the first half.
“RJ’s a good player,” Odom said. “He’s a winning player, and he’s been there in big moments and had to make big shots for us when the game was tied and we needed somebody to get us over the top. He’s done that, and so we’re going to lean on that at times.”
Miller, who has traditionally flourished against smaller teams like the NAIA Bulldogs, had a tough night shooting the basketball, finishing just 2 of 9 from the field, including 2 of 7 from 3-point range. As a team, the Aggies shot nearly 51% from the floor, despite knocking down just 6 of 22 3-point attempts.
Odom said that performance was actually a continuation of what happened in Utah State’s closed scrimmage against SMU on Oct. 16, and he blamed most of those misses on bad shot selection.
“Quite honestly, we shot worse at the other deal, you know?” he said. “And I think part of that is a function of, we’ve got to get the right (shots). When we did get the right ones, most of them went in. … So, can we trade out some of those where, that’s contested right there and we’re only 10 seconds into the clock? We can get another one. Let’s trust ourselves.
“That’s just a learning process for a team. And mixing in different lineups, that’s a factor too. Eventually you settle in on a rotation, and who’s going to be out there.”
Jones was clearly as excited as anyone to be out on the court Wednesday night. The son of former USU assistant coach Chris Jones, he was able to play a game in Cache Valley for the first time since his freshman year at Logan High and delivered nine points on 4 of 7 shooting with five assists and one turnover in 27 minutes.
“Tonight really was a dream come true, it was so surreal to play in front of Aggie nation,” Jones wrote on Twitter after the game.
“I thought Rylan really got us going in the second half,” Odom said of Jones, who scored USU’s first five points after halftime on an 18-foot jumper and a baseline 3-pointer. “He was a lot more aggressive at the beginning of the half in getting to the basket.”
Sophomore guard Steven Ashworth (eight points, two assists, four turnovers) came off the bench to play the point, although Odom played both he and Jones together for short stints in each half. Ten Aggies played significant minutes in USU’s lone exhibition game, with three more, including Utah transfer Norbert Thelissen, getting on the court in the final two minutes.
Junior center Trevin Dorius, who has been sidelined by a foot injury, didn’t play Wednesday, but Odom suggested he will be back in action soon. Junior guard Sean Bairstow, was also on the bench, his left wrist is still in cast.
For better or worse, the Aggies, who held the Bulldogs to just 32% shooting, have quite a bit of time to get better and healthier. Utah State won’t play its first official game until Nov. 9 when UC Davis visits the Spectrum.
“All in all, we’ll learn from this game and will never complain about winning a game,” Odom said. “But there are certainly things that we need to attack over the next two weeks prior to our home opener.”