There are nights, like Utah State men’s basketball had against Santa Clara on Monday, when just about everything goes right.
Utah State welcomed a 2-0 Santa Clara team into the Spectrum and put on an offensive clinic, shooting 51% from the field and totaling 25 assists as a team, as the Aggies prevailed over the Broncos in a blowout, 96-74. The team moved to 3-0 for the first time under head coach Ryan Odom and the first time since 2019.
The Aggies’ offense has not only increased its point total each game this season after putting 84 points on Bradley last Friday, but they’ve had a different leading scorer in every game so far as graduate forward Taylor Funk scored 22 points to go with 11 rebounds, his second double-double of the season.
Despite Funk’s 1,439 career points at St. Joseph’s University, Odom said at the beginning of the season that his staff brought Funk in to be more than just a scorer, but his scoring ability was ever present, along with his capability to take over a game. He had 19 points in the first half.
“(Funk) expects to play well, regardless of who he’s playing,” Odom said. “Our guys are really confident in him, and he’s really confident in himself. When you have that connection there, and you have those two things working together, the chance of success is pretty good.”
SCU traded punches with USU early on, jumping ahead, 5-2, in the first few minutes and holding a 17-16 lead after roughly five minutes of play, then senior guard Rylan Jones turned on the heat with back-to-back 3-pointers, then he found graduate forward Dan Akin on an assist for a layup with a foul, getting the Aggies out to a 25-19 lead. Utah State never trailed again, and Jones finished the game with eight assists and zero turnovers. He was plus-32 on the night.
“Our key this year is always being able to answer,” Funk said. “This summer, our slogan was ‘Champions always answer.’ We want to be champions here.”
Odom prepared the team for a fast-paced game, and the Aggies responded, causing 13 turnovers and turning them into 22 points on the other end. Utah State also bombarded Santa Clara from the arc, hitting 12 of 31 3-point attempts.
The 3 wasn’t always falling for Utah State, but the first few minutes of the second half proved the Aggies didn’t always need it. Senior center Trevin Dorius had a stretch of 2:22 where he dunked on the SCU defense three times, and once the Broncos adjusted to it, Utah State has several wide-open looks at the basket from the arc. Dorius finished with 11 points.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Dorius said. “We’re going to miss shots, they’re going to make shots, but ultimately it comes down to the team that answers. I think it shows a lot of toughness on our part.”
Defensively, the Aggies had to prepare for SCU’s Brandin Podziemski, who entered the game averaging 32 points per game (second nationally), and seniors Max Shulga and Steven Ashworth locked him down. The prolific scorer was held to just 12 points on 3-11 shooting from the field, and notably only had four three-throw attempts.
“A key was not fouling him,” Odom said. “I thought Max did a great job. The discipline that it takes to guard a guy like that can really score, it’s not easy.”
Ashworth finished with 18 points and left the game before the end with an apparent foot injury. The team reported it as a sprained ankle after the game and did not give information on a return date.