The Aggies put together a pristine second-half stretch to wrap up a perfect week at home in the Spectrum.
Utah State’s 90-75 win over UNLV Saturday night stretched its winning streak to five games and closed out a 3-0 run at home that also included wins over Air Force and San Jose State.
“We wanted to make sure that we took care of business here,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “But we needed to win these games, and we felt like we could. But the key to it was our focus. Our team’s focus on each game and each preparation leading up to it, and I thought our guys did a really nice job.”
The Aggies (15-9 overall, 6-5 in the Mountain West) had their struggles with the Rebels (13-10, 5-5) in the first half and early in the second half, primarily because of the play of UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton, who finished with a game-high 33 points. But after leading by as many as nine points after halftime, USU let the Rebels get back to within one point at the 12-minute mark.
But the visitors wouldn’t score again for more than five-and-a-half minutes while the Aggies carved UNLV up with spectacular offensive execution and great individual plays. Utah State only attempted (and missed) one 3-pointer during a game-changing 16-0 run that came thanks to defensive stops, free throws and some slick scoring in the paint, from both guards and big men alike.
“Coach Odom told us to not just settle for 3s, but obviously we had a lot of good looks,” senior forward Justin Bean said after the Aggies shot a season-high 64% from the field. “But we were really aggressive, and I thought Sean (Bairstow) was huge in that and Brandon (Horvath). Just being really physical and getting some buckets in the paint. And when we’re able to do that, the floodgates open from the perimeter, as well.”
Bean certainly unleashed a torrent on the Rebels, scoring 32 points — one short of his career-high — while going 11 for 15 from the floor, 5 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 for 6 from the free-throw line. The senior from Moore, Okla., also pulled down 10 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season — all with both of his parents in the stands. His mother, Shauna, was in Logan all week long, while his father, Gordon, flew in from Oklahoma Saturday morning.
“Steven’s a stud. We all know what he can do, and I think it’s really coming to light this year, as well. He’s playing really well.” — Utah State guard Sean Bairstow on Steven Ashworth
“He was having some FOMO (fear of missing out) since my mom’s been up here for the whole week, so he just decided to come out,” Bean said of Gordon Bean, who played the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1987 NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City as a member of the Idaho State Bengals.
“It turns out he was good luck, but don’t tell him that. He’ll get a big head.”
Gordon Bean’s good luck apparently also rubbed off on a few more of the Aggies, particularly senior forward Brandon Horvath (17 points, nine rebounds, five assists), junior guard Sean Bairstow (14 points) and sophomore guard Steven Ashworth (14 points, seven assists). While USU’s bench contributed just six points, the starters went a combined 30 for 45 from the field.
Horvath’s 3-pointer at the buzzer helped vault the Aggies back in front, 40-38, just before halftime, while the 6-foot-8 Bairstow took advantage of mismatches down low all night long.
“I feel like I’m a big guard; I have that mismatch a lot,” Bairstow said. “So, if they’re not sending a double-team, I feel comfortable scoring or drawing them in and making the right play after that. ... I feel like it’s something that I’ve had in my game for a long time, and now it’s just really starting to come to light. And it also helps that we’ve got fours and fives who can space the floor, which opens up the paint so much.”
Ashworth also played a key role when the Aggies took control of the game. Although he gives up at least three inches and 35 pounds to Hamilton, Odom elected to put him on UNLV’s leading scorer for most of the second half. His quickness led to Hamilton finally missing a few times during Utah State’s 16-0 run, and the former Lone Peak star also took a charge from Hamilton in the middle of that stretch.
In addition, Ashworth added a couple of great passes that led to scores, and also delivered two jaw-dropping baseline moves for buckets of his own.
“Steven’s a stud,” Bairstow said. “We all know what he can do, and I think it’s really coming to light this year, as well. He’s playing really well.”
The Aggies knocked down 10 of 22 3-point field goal attempts, outrebounded the Rebels 28-24 and committed just seven turnovers.
Utah State trailed by as many as six points early in the game and late in the second half. But after Horvath’s trey just before intermission, the Aggies never trailed again thanks to scoring the first seven points of the second half and that 16-0 run.
UNLV shot 48.1% as a team and went 11 for 26 from 3-point range. Hamilton, who was 4 of 9 from the floor and had 13 points in the first half, ended up going 11 of 21 from the field, 4 for 7 from 3-point range and 7 of 10 from the free-throw line on his way to 33 points.
But the Rebels’ other starters combined for just 22 points, and the visitors ended up trailing by as many as 20 points in their only regular-season game against the Aggies this season.
“There’s no such thing as an easy win in this conference, even at home,” Bean said. “I thought our fans were huge all week. I can’t thank them enough for coming in big-time. The Hurd (Utah State’s student section), all of the fans, so just really proud of them and grateful for them for helping us get that atmosphere going.”
Utah State, which had won four games in a row before their five-game winning streak, now play three of their next four games on the road starting with Tuesday’s contest at second-place Wyoming (18-3, 7-1).