LOGAN — Utah State head coach Danny Sprinkle didn’t have a great start to his day.
But he did have a Great ending.
Playing their only in-state game of the season, the Aggies outlasted a spirited offensive effort by Southern Utah to pull off a 93-84 victory Tuesday night at the Spectrum.
Junior forward Great Osobor led the way for Utah State (2-1) with a career-high 31 points while adding 10 rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes.
A transfer from Montana State, Sprinkle’s previous employer, Osobor’s performance helped take the sting out of a rough Tuesday for USU’s first-year head coach.
“It was a long day; longer than you guys probably know about,” a rather weary Sprinkle noted at the beginning of his postgame press conference.
Sprinkle then explained that Southern Utah’s bus crashed into his car in the tight confines of the Spectrum parking lot, leaving his Tesla hanging on the edge of the elevated parking area directly adjacent to the Wayne Estes Center where his office is located.
“I told (SUU head coach Rob) Jeter that he might have to pick me up for the game,” Sprikle cracked due to his now-undrivable vehicle. “So, yeah, it was pretty bad. The driver feels terrible, but everyone’s safe. No one got hurt, and that’s the main thing.”
Fortunately for Sprinkle, Osobor did his best to dish out some hard collisions of his own.
Southern Utah (1-2) was called for a dozen fouls on Tuesday while trying to defend the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder from England, leading to him going 13 for 17 from the free-throw line.
“A lot of credit to big man coach (Chris) Haslam,” Osobor said. “He’s really on me about being physical. I feel like God blessed me with having .. I’m 6-8, 250. Like, I’m a big guy, so I feel like every game I need to try and be physical, and it’s a physical game down there.
“I’m probably going to foul. They’re going to foul me. I just try to just keep being consistent with it. Tonight worked out for me.”
Sprinkle’s other Montana State connection, former Bobcat point guard Darius Brown II, also put together a huge offensive game for the Aggies. The graduate transfer totaled 22 points and eight assists while going 5 for 9 from 3-point range.
“DB is awesome. He’s like what you want in a point guard. He’s a pass-first point guard, but then don’t get it twisted, he can shoot the ball and can get to his own shot,” Osobor said of Brown, who had USU’s only 3-pointer of the game until sophomore guard Javon Jackson knocked down a trey with just under three minutes left in the game.
“When he’s aggressive, he’s really helpful for us.”
Ironically, both Osobor and Sprinkle noted that Brown came alive offensively last year during Montana State’s 86-83 win at Southern Utah on Nov. 30, when he went 3 for 3 from 3-point range on his way to a 17-point night.
“We had just got back from playing in Montreal, and teams were going under the ball screen. And I was like, ‘You know Darius, if they go under the ball screen and you don’t shoot it, then I’m taking you out,’” Sprinkle recalled.
“And he came out and was aggressive that game and for the rest of the season. ... And you can see how good of a shooter he is.”
Junior guard Josh Uduje (14 points) and freshman guard Mason Falslev (11 points) also reached double figures in scoring for the Aggies, who trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half despite shooting 61.5% from the field.
Credit the Thunderbirds, who gave Utah State all it could handle offensively, shooting 50.8% from the floor for the game and finishing with four double-digit scorers of their own.
Sophomore guard Prophet Johnson led the way with 24 points, while junior guard Dominique Ford finished with 19. Senior guard Zion Young added 14, and Skyridge High product Braden Housley contributed 11.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Southern Utah,” Sprinkle said. “They played terrific tonight. I thought Coach Jeter had his guys ready.
“They were playing at a totally different speed than we were the first 15 minutes of the game. They had us on our heels. Their guards did a great job driving us. They rejected a ton of ball screens, and we didn’t adjust to it until the second half.”
The Thunderbirds came out of the gate hot, building an early 11-2 lead before Sprinkle called a timeout.
Osobor took the blame for that, noting that he missed two layups he normally finishes, but after that timeout, he and the Aggie slowly clawed their way back after falling behind by as many as 10 points.
The hosts were trailing 42-35 with less than three minutes left in the first half when Osobor and Brown sparked a 9-0 run that gave USU it’s first lead of the game.
After scoring on a reverse layup, Osobor blocked a shot at the other end and the carom ended up in Brown’s hands. Brown then calmly pulled up and drained a 3-pointer to suddenly bring the crowd of 7,112 to life.
Brown came up with a steal on SUU’s next possession and took it in for a layup and a 42-42 tie, then Osobor grabbed a steal of his own and passed to ahead to Uduje for a dunk and a 44-42 advantage that led to an even louder Spectrum.
“It was awesome being on that end of it; I’ve been on the other end of that, and it’s not fun,” said Sprinkle, who coached Montana State in a game in Logan in 2019. “The crowd really sparked our guys and gave us so much energy.”
The Aggies took a 46-45 lead into halftime, then took control of the game with a 9-0 run to start the second half.
The Thunderbirds, led by Ford, battled back from a 14-point deficit to cut USU’s lead to as few as four points with five minutes remaining but where unable to get all the way back as the Aggies kept on scoring.
“What I keep telling my team is that offensively, we make shots and we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re going to be in any game,” Jeter said. “But to win games we have to defend. You give up 93 points — that’s not defending.
“We know that they’re a great team, well-coached, going to run a lot of different things. They pose problems, but I think our inexperience as a group showed because what was really evident on their side was their two carry-over players with coach Sprinkle took over the game. We need another year for that to happen. I’m proud of our effort. We just now have to get locked in on discipline.”