Utah State feels sense of relief after handling San Diego State, ending losing streak
The Aggies had lost four straight games prior to the win over the defending Mountain West Conference champion Aztecs.
When asked how long it felt since the Aggies had last won a ball game, Utah State’s Steven Ashworth, much like he did shooting the basketball Thursday night, didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger with his answer.
“An eternity, honestly,” the sophomore guard quickly proclaimed.
More accurately, prior to USU’s convincing, 75-57 victory over San Diego State at the Spectrum, the Aggies hadn’t won since pulling off an overtime win at New Mexico on Jan. 8. In between, Utah State (11-9 overall, 2-5 in the Mountain West) had lost four games by a total of 17 points, so to rough up the defending conference champion Aztecs (11-5, 3-2) felt particularly sweet for the Aggies.
“Oh man, it just feels really good to get off of that losing streak, especially because of how we were losing to really good teams,” USU senior forward Brandon Horvath said. “We were in practice every day just saying, ‘We’re right there.’ And we just kept pushing, kept working and it feels really good to beat a really good team. ... It feels good to finally get over that hump, and we’ve just got to build off of that.”
Ashworth, who has come off the bench most of the season, started his second straight game after Rylan Jones suffered a concussion at Fresno State on Jan. 18. Ashworth ended up knocking down four 3-point attempts in the first half and went 5 of 10 from long range for the game on his way to scoring a team-high 17 points.
“We felt like we’d been right there and tonight I think what you saw was offensively we got back to Aggie basketball and how we were playing a little bit earlier in the season,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “Less isolations, more movement, and better decisions. The ball was just moving a whole lot faster offensively for us and Steven got us off to a good start with some timely threes and some were open, which they’re hard to get against San Diego State.”
Ashworth logged 37 minutes of playing time in the win, the same as senior forward Justin Bean, who totaled 13 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. The Aggies were in danger of losing their leading scorer when, with just under seven minutes to go, the back of teammate Sean Bairstow’s head collided with Bean’s head and opened up a cut just above his right eye.
“He’s got a big, what you call it, goose egg?” Odom said of Bean, who only missed about a minute of game time before returning to the court and playing the remainder of the contest. “I took him out because I saw it swelling, and I was like you’ve got to get out and get ice on it right away or you’re not going to be able to play.
“And so he went out, got the ice on it and I can’t tell you it went down all that much. Maybe it just minimized the swelling a little bit. So we have some work to do on it. Hopefully it doesn’t get worse.”
The Aggies, who shot 49.1% from the floor and went 10 of 24 from 3-point range against one of the best defensive teams in the nation, also got 12 points from Horvath and 10 points — all in the second half — from Bairstow.
It appeared that Utah State would need every point they could get with SDSU guard Matt Bradley (19 points on 8 of 12 shooting) seemingly being able to score at will in the second half. But after losing one-possession games to Wyoming and Boise State in their last two home contests, the Aggies held the Aztecs without a field goal the final five minutes and closed out the victory on a 13-2 run.
San Diego State did shoot 48.9% as a team, but the Aztecs lost the rebounding battle, 35-21. And while the Aggies pulled down nine offensive rebounds, the Aztecs didn’t secure one.
“I guess the most disappointing stat today is zero offensive rebounds,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said. “That’s unbelievable. You know for a team and obviously they must have worked on that because Boise State punished them on the class in the last game. So, you learn from losses. And so now we’re in that position.”
Utah State’s late spurt bookended the start of the second half, when the Aggies, who were clinging to a 32-31 lead at halftime, put together a 14-2 run coming out of the locker room. The Aztecs managed to trim USU’s leads of 15 and 16 points down to as few as seven points on three different occasions, but the Aggies steadied the ship each time before SDSU could get to within fewer than three possessions of the lead.
“Going back to the last game against Boise State, we mentioned a lot about those winning plays at the end of the game that we felt like were out there that we could’ve made,” Ashworth noted. “The biggest difference was tonight we made those. And the crowd was huge for us. The atmosphere was great. As a team we were ready, and we knew we were capable of playing a game like we were able to play tonight against a caliber team that we just played who’s a great team.”
Odom was particularly pleased with his team’s second-half opening burst because the Aggies, who were up by as many as eight points in the first half, had surrendered a 7-0 run to their guests over the final four minutes before halftime.
“I was irritated at the half because we got away from what got us the lead initially,” Odom said. “... Not to take away anything from San Diego State, but we weren’t playing the same way offensively at the end. And if you do that, they’re going to bottle you up and make you look bad.”