Utah State extended its win streak, but it wasn’t as easy as expected
The Aggies had their hands full early on with the last place San Jose State Spartans, before pulling away for a convincing victory
Playing a game that was originally scheduled for New Year’s Day, the Aggies rang in the less-heralded day of Feb. 3 with their fourth straight victory.
“Good win for us,” Utah State head coach Ryan Odom said following his team’s harder-than-expected 78-62 win over last-place San Jose State Thursday night at the Spectrum.
“San Jose State, Coach (Tim) Miles and his team, they were ready to play today and every day. The film that we’ve watched of them, their record in conference is not indicative of how they’re playing right now.”
The Aggies (14-9 overall, 5-5 in the Mountain West) had their troubles against the shorthanded Spartans (7-14, 0-9) and led by just one point at halftime. But the home team shot 56.3% in the second half and pulled away by as many as 21 points to hand San Jose State its ninth straight loss.
“We only had 10 points at the rim in the first half, we end with 34,” Odom noted. “They end with 24, and they had 16 at half. I think that was a key to the game for us. Our defense just got a little bit better and helped our offense.”
Utah State forward Brandon Horvath knocked down 8 of 16 field goal attempts on his way to a game-high 19 points. The senior transfer from UMBC also pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out five assists to nearly equal his line (17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) from USU’s win over Air Force Tuesday night.
Horvath’s counterpart, Justin Bean, also finished with a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds). But the senior forward took a much different route to get there, connecting on his final five field goal attempts after going 2 for 10 to start the game, including one brutal sequence where he pulled down three straight offensive rebounds only to miss three shots directly beneath the basket.
“It was definitely an interesting offensive first half for us,” Bean admired. “For me, it felt like my high school coach. He always says, ‘You guys sometimes can’t hit the broad side of a barn.’ That’s what it felt like for me the first half, but coaches did a good job instilling that trust and confidence in myself and Brandon.
“Thankfully we were able to get on a roll there in the second half and played our game, and stuck to what we do best and sharing the ball.”
Utah State committed just five turnovers in the game — the fewest by a USU team since February 2018 — while racking up 24 turnovers. Utah State, which ended up shooting 46.3% for the game, also went 10 of 29 from 3-point range and won the rebounding battle 38-29 thanks to 13 offensive boards.
Senior guard RJ Eytle-Rock added 11 points for the Aggies, while sophomore guard Max Shulga came off the bench to contribute eight points and four assists, several of them on highlight-reel-worthy passes.
“I thought Max was great,” Odom noted. “His 18 minutes were really valuable for us: 18 minutes, eight points, four assists, zero turnovers. Great game off the bench for him.”
The Spartans, who came into the game with just three bench players, suffered a significant loss less than three minutes into the game when starting forward and second-leading scorer Trey Anderson got hit in the forehead and didn’t return. That left first-year coach Tim Miles with just seven able bodies against the Aggies, who only played eight men themselves until the final two minutes of the game.
“I kind of felt like one of the king’s men trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again for a while,” said Miles, who former USU head coach Craig Smith coached under at Colorado State and Nebraska. “We lost Trey Anderson early, that was really hurtful. Not sure if we’re going to have him, we’ll see where he’s at, going to test him with concussion-type stuff. But our kids did a good job.”
Utah State, which hasn’t seen a lot of zone defense this season, handled SJSU’s switching 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones early in the game. But after going up by as many as six points, the Aggie defense suddenly went ice cold, missing 12 straight shots while going nearly six minutes with scoring.
Horvath finally broke through, notching two straight buckets near the basket. But the Aggies were still trailing by a point in the final seconds of the first half until Rylan Jones drove the left side of the lane and somehow managed to reach across to the other side of the basket and get it the ball to spin up and in for a 34-33 USU advantage.
Following intermission, the Aggies connected on three of their first field-goal attempts to go up by seven, and with the exception of surrendering the occasional 3-pointer to the Spartans, just kept building on their advantage.
Horvath brought the house down when he stole a pass by SJSU’s Trey Smith, who led the Spartans with 14 points, and then drove the length of the court for a slam dunk, dribbling behind his back just before attacking the rim.
A second transition slam by Horvath off a pass from Shulga completed a 9-0 run that left the Aggies comfortably up by 13 points with just under 13 minutes remaining.
“At the end of the game the difference was, let’s face it, Bean and Horvath got away from us in that second half and then they had some timely 3-point shooting also that allowed them to extend the lead,” Miles said. “I thought we did some things better, but I think you have to complement their second-half effort. Utah State’s second-half effort was very, very good. That’s what makes them tough. That’s what makes them tough in this building.”
Utah State is now 39-4 in games played against San Jose State in Logan, while the Aggies have won seven straight in the series and 28 of their last 29 games against the Spartans.