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The Aggies showed fight against BYU, but struggles against the Cougars continue

The Aggies haven’t won at the Marriott Center since 2004, and have now dropped 13 of their last 15 overall games against the rival Cougars.

Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) battles Utah State Aggies forward Justin Bean (34) and Utah State Aggies forward Brandon Horvath (4) for the ball as BYU and Utah State play an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. BYU won 82-71.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) battles Utah State Aggies forward Justin Bean (34) and Utah State Aggies forward Brandon Horvath (4) for the ball as BYU and Utah State play an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. BYU won 82-71.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

While the Marriott Center might share a name with a renowned hotel chain, BYU’s home arena remains a very inhospitable place for the Aggies.

Brigham Young beat Utah State 82-71 Wednesday night in Provo to continue a long stretch of dominance over its in-state rival. The Aggies, who haven’t won at the Marriott Center since 2004, have now dropped 13 of its last 15 overall games against the No. 24 Cougars (8-1).

Utah State (6-3) held early leads of 3-0 and 5-2 thanks to a 3-pointer by Brock Miller and a layup by Justin Bean, but a 10-0 run by BYU meant that was good as things were going to get for the Aggies in their first true road game of the season.

“Credit to BYU, they played extremely well right out of the gates,” Ryan Odom said after his first clash with the Cougars as Utah State’s head coach. “They put a lot of pressure on us offensively. They were getting the ball up the court really fast. They’re really tough to guard coming out of that left corner, going downhill, right down the lane. And we really struggled with that early in the game.”

Utah State ended up trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, and the visitors were down 45-33 at halftime. Things got worse early in the second half as Brigham Young exploded for another 12-2 surge that left them up 66-46 with 11:25 remaining.

To their credit, the Aggies continued to battle and managed to close the gap to just seven points on three occasions within the final 6:29. But Utah State was never able to come up with that one stop or big shot that might have finally turned the tide in its favor down the stretch.

“We ended up getting down right around 20 … but our guys kept fighting. And that’s what Aggies do,” Odom said. “We got to the point where it was seven when our goal was to get it inside of 10 and put a little bit of game pressure on them. And our guys did that.

“We had it right where we wanted it, and then unfortunately we just didn’t finish with baskets. We had couple of turnovers, mixed in with the obvious missed free throws. And when you have such a deficit like we had, sometimes when you’re coming back like that, it takes so much energy to come back that you run a risk of missing some.

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t put a little bit more pressure on them there at the end,” Odom added. “But credit to them, they made their free throws there down the stretch and finished it out.”

While BYU went 19 of 22 at the free-throw line, the Aggies were a woeful 9 of 20 and missed their first six attempts of the second half.

Utah State actually outshot the Cougars from the floor, 52% to 50%, and put together a similar performance from 3-point range (10 of 26 vs. 11 for 24). But in addition to shooting just 45% at the line, the Aggies committed 17 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle, 31-26, to drop their second straight contest after winning six games in a row.

“It was a tough loss. This is a really hard place to win at, but we fought really hard,” USU junior guard Sean Bairstow noted. “We missed some free throws that could have flipped the game, but I’m still proud of how we played and how we fought.”

Bairstow ended up being a bright spot for the Aggies, scoring a season-high 11 points in 26 minutes. It was just the third game of the season for the Australian native, who was sidelined for most of the fall with a broken left wrist and a lacerated kidney.

“Sean is just coming back, and today was obviously his best game. And you can kind of see the potential there that he has,” Odom said of Bairstow, who is 11 for 20 from the field since his return. “He’s a big body. He can attack and get to the basket; he’s very athletic. … I was really proud of the way he played today.”

Senior forward Brandon Horvath helped spark USU’s late comeback attempt by scoring 11 of his 14 points in the second half, but it was Bean whom Odom said kept the Aggies in “striking range” of the Cougars. While the senior from Oklahoma failed to record a double-double for just the second time this season, Bean still finished with 20 points and seven rebounds.

Sixteen of those points came in the first half, as Bean went 6 of 9 from the floor, but Bean was remarkably the only Aggie to contribute more than one field goal in the first 21 minutes of the game. Foul trouble for USU’s two primary point guards probably had something to do with that, with both Rylan Jones (seven points, six assists) and Steven Ashworth (nine points, three assists) picking up two fouls early in the first half.

Neither one of Odom’s two predecessors ever beat BYU, with both Craig Smith and Tim Duryea going 0 for 3 against the Cougars in their respective three-year stints as the head coach of the Aggies. But Odom said he still enjoyed his first taste of USU’s longest-running rivalry and the unfriendly atmosphere at the Marriott Center.

“They’re loud. It’s an excellent place to play a game, and a really fun atmosphere,” Odom declared. “Certainly, our guys were ready to play, and I know our guys were, as well. We’ve got a ton of respect for Coach (Mark) Pope and his program, and certainly the fans are always a part of it.

“These are the fun games that you want to be a part of. I wish we had played a little bit better than we did, but you’ve got to give BYU credit.”