Sidelined by a chronic back issue the past 14 games, Utah State guard Brock Miller hadn’t seen game action for the Aggies since last year.
But No. 22 was finally able to notch his first points of ‘22 on so-called Twosday — 2-22-22 — in USU’s 81-56 blowout of New Mexico at the Spectrum.
“Oh man, that was unbelievable,” Miller said of returning to the court for the first time since USU’s loss at Air Force on Dec. 29. “And I’m really humbled with just the opportunity that I’ve been given to play. When it’s been taken away a little bit with bad health, you realize how great it is to be out there.”
Limited to two short stints in each half of Tuesday night’s game, Miller ended up going 1 for 3 from the field over 12 minutes. But he provided the game’s most memorable moment when he buried a 3-pointer from the corner off a pass out of the post by teammate Brandon Horvath with just over 14 minutes to play.
“I’ve definitely got to give Brock a shout out for that 3-pointer,” USU forward Justin Bean said of the trey that put the Aggies up by a then-game-high 25 points. “It’s probably the loudest this arena has gotten all year, so that was exciting for him to get his groove back and get back out there.”
Utah State (16-13 overall, 7-9 in the Mountain West) ended up pulling away from the Lobos (11-17, 3-11) by as many as 29 points to end its four-game losing streak with two regular-season games remaining.
Bean led the way with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, but also totaled 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 32 minutes. Horvath connected on of 8 of 10 shot attempts on his way to 19 points, while junior guard Sean Bairstow (12 points) and sophomore guard Steven Ashworth (10 points, six assists) also scored in double figures for the Aggies, who shot better than 50% in both halves.
“Offensively, I thought our guys did a really nice job passing the ball tonight,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “I think our guys were spaced a lot better, and we’re confident.”
The Aggies certainly had reason to be confident on Tuesday considering that after surrendering the first basket of the game to the Lobos, the home team ended up knocking down its first eight shots — including four from 3-point range — to pull away for a 20-7 lead just 5:19 into the game.
“That was incredible,” Bean said of USU’s start. “I looked up and saw 20 points with 14 left to play and I was like, Wow, we’re on pace to score over a hundred. We didn’t do that ... but it was a good effort from everybody.
“When we get defensive stops and we’re playing good defense, then our offense definitely feeds off of that. So, that’s what I thought was a huge key to knocking down those shots and just being confident.”
Although USU’s offense wasn’t always firing on all cylinders — the Aggies missed 11 3-point attempts in a row after their 4-for-4 start — it didn’t need to always be on thanks to the home team’s defense.
New Mexico shot just 30% in the first half and 36.4% for the game, including a 5 -for-17 effort from 3-point range. The Lobos, who came into Tuesday’s contest as the best 3-point shooting team in Mountain West games (8.92 3-pointers and 37.8%) this season, were not able to deliver the kind of performance that lifted them to a 75-66 upset of No. 22 Wyoming last week in Albuquerque.
“Just a week ago today, we beat the No. 1 team in the league, and we’ve allowed fatigue, mentally and physically, to just sap our spirit and zap our enthusiasm and we’re just not ourselves right now at all,” first-year UNM head coach Richard Pitino said. “... The last two games, we did not compete at all. You start the game allowing them 8-for-8, I think you started the second half allowing them 5-for-7, so there’s not a whole lot of positivity going on right now. Just telling it how it is. We just have to get back and continue to learn and grow.”
The Aggies, who led 38-21 at halftime, will host their final regular-season home game Saturday night against Colorado State. It now appears that Miller, a fifth-year senior, will be able to play in his Spectrum finale — likely his final game before coming a father. The former Brighton High star said his wife, Bailey, is scheduled to deliver the couple’s first child next Tuesday.
“A week from today, we’ll have a baby boy. So, we’ll have him before we go to San Jose State,” Miller explained. “That’s the plan right now. We’re excited about it.”