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How Zee Hamoda’s breakout game led Utah State to win over Carroll College

Utah State forward Zee Hamoda, wearing white, takes a shot as Carroll College guard Shamrock Campbell, wearing purple, defends
Utah State forward Zee Hamoda (24) takes a shot as Carroll College guard Shamrock Campbell (22) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via Associated Press

The Aggies were good from the “A” to Zee Monday night at the Spectrum against Carroll College.

Freshman swingman Zee Hamoda contributed a career-high 15 points in Utah State’s dominating, 93-63 victory over the NAIA Fighting Saints from Helena, Mont. A native of Bahrain, Hamoda had made only 2 of his first 11 shots this season before coming off the bench in the first half and knocking down his first five attempts in Monday’s game.

“That was great to see,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said of Hamoda’s breakout performance. “We’ve all seen it in practice. We have the benefit of practice and as a coaching staff and teammates, so we’ve seen him go on runs like that against our starters, really good players.”

The victory over previously unbeaten Carroll College (10-1) was the sixth straight for Utah State (6-1), which will host mid-major powerhouse St. Mary’s Thursday night at the Spectrum. The Gaels beat UC Riverside, 67-50, on Monday to improve to 7-1 this season.

In addition to Hamoda, who ended up going 6 of 9 from the field and 2 of 5 from 3-point range in 16 minutes of action, the Aggies got 20 points from senior forward Brandon Horvath and 14 points and 11 rebounds from senior forward Justin Bean.

It was a return to form for Horvath, who was hampered by foul trouble during much of last Saturday’s win over UT Arlington and scored a season-low two points in 19 minutes.

“We talked a little bit, and he understands that he can’t be sophomore Brandon anymore,” Odom said of his former UMBC star, who connected on 8 of his 10 field-goal attempts against the Saints. “I know his whole history ... I’ve coached that kid for four years. And he wasn’t right the other day, and he played tougher today.

“I know he scored 20, but I’m not even worried about that. He played tougher on defense, and he battled a little more. He’s not the physical center — I’m not trying to make him something that he’s not — but at the same time, there’s an effort thing that needs to be there. There’s a level of execution and focus that we have to have, and he provided that tonight.”

The Aggies, who racked up 26 assists for the second straight game, also got 11 points and three 3-pointers from senior guard Brock Miller, and a career-best 10 points and six rebounds from sophomore center Szymon Zapala.

Junior guard Sean Bairstow, who hadn’t played all season due to an injury to his left wrist, scored eight points in his first 17 minutes of action this year.

“Last night, our athletic trainer called me and said he’s ready to play; he think he can give you some minutes,” Odom said of Bairstow. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see how the game is going, and it will kind of be a feel thing. But I’ll plan on getting him in there at some point.’”

As a team, Utah State shot a season-best 57.1% from the field, while going 10 of 27 from 3-point range. The Aggies, who were extremely patient offensively, also dominated the boards by a 42-26 margin and turned the ball over just 10 times.

“I was really impressed with Utah State’s shooting,” Carroll College head coach Kurt Paulson said. “They did a nice job of kind of skipping the ball and finding their shooters. Lots of shooters spacing the floor, so we had a hard time guarding that. I thought they shot the ball well.

“But it was a great experience for our team, great environment. I know this game will help our team down the road just getting experience playing a great Division I program.”

The Saints shot 42.7% for the game and attempted only nine 3-pointers, knocking down four of them. Senior guard Jovan Sljivancanin led Carroll with 18 points, while Garrett Long and Gui Pedro both added 11 points.

Utah State jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead to open the game, with Horvath scoring four points and Bean racking up six rebounds before the Saints were able to secure their first board. Carroll College finally scored on a floater in the lane by Shamrock Campbell with 15:26 left in the first half, and primarily thanks to Sljivancanin, the visitors shot a respectable 46.7% in the over the first 20 minutes.

But the Aggies were even better (60.6%), while knocking down 7 of 14 3-point attempts and dominating the boards by a 23-8 margin.

Utah State led 55-31 at halftime and the Aggies extended their lead to as many as 34 points in the second half.

“I think we started the game really well,” Hamoda said. “We just locked in when we tipped the ball. We stayed up to our standard and did what we do, and I’m really happy for the win.”