Excitement, then depression, then nostalgia, then pandemonium, and finally…shock. It was far from a typical night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Utah State men’s basketball and a sold-out crowd of 9,000 fans went through the most exquisite emotional rollercoaster on Saturday evening as the Aggies pulled off a thrilling comeback to beat Nevada at home, 75-66. Utah State trailed by as much as 21 points in the first half and overcame a 47-32 halftime deficit by holding the Wolfpack to 19 second-half points.
“There’s no stat that can really describe how that game went,” Aggies coach Ryan Odom said. “You can’t look at one thing and say, ‘this is why.’ That game, to me and to our team, was all about composure, it was all about playing with heart and grit.”
Junior guard Steven Ashworth led the team in scoring with 20 points, 13 of which came in the second half aided by free throws in the last minute. He led five Aggies in double figures as junior guard Max Shulga double-doubled with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Dan Akin had 12 points, grad transfer forward Taylor Funk had 11 points and senior guard RJ Eytle-Rock had a much-needed 10 points.
The Aggies weathered almost 12 minutes of absolutely nightmarish basketball as Nevada shot a brain-melting 93% from the field up to the 10:39 mark in the first half and led, 30-9. Nevada center Will Baker went without missing and singlehandedly scored 22 points straight for the Wolfpack to USU’s 4, shockingly doing it in less than five minutes.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, as an assistant and a head coach,” Odom said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Nevada didn’t miss a shot in the first four minutes of the game. It took until there was 8:29 left in the first half for Nevada to miss a second one.
At that point, Odom’s message to the team was clear and simple.
“The message is usually, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard,’ and that was definitely our message in that moment,” Ashworth said. “We knew that it couldn’t last the entire game … knowing that we just needed to keep going possession by possession by possession was really our message.”
The Aggies had been here before, trailing by 16 at halftime playing San Diego State 10 days ago, and they nearly pulled it off then, eventually losing 63-61.
Utah State was determined not to let it happen again. The Aggies flipped the script on the Wolfpack hard enough to give a viewer whiplash, outscoring Nevada 46-19 in the second half and forcing the blistering Nevada offense to go almost 10 minutes without a field goal. Nevada shot just 19% in the second half — 43% worse than the first half — going 5 of 26 from the field.
A well-deserved “Player of the Game” was Eytle-Rock, who had a reemergence of sorts after a tough season. Eytle-Rock hit two massive 3-pointers and had his second double-figure game of the season after losing his starting spot from last year. His layup off a turnover with 10:20 remaining in the second half gave him 1,001 career points. He played for over 17 minutes and was checked into the final two minutes of the game to close out the comeback.
“It’s definitely special,” Eytle-Rock said when asked about his scoring benchmark. “Not everyone gets to do this. It’s definitely something that I will keep for the rest of my life. It’s a blessing to get out in a game like this for sure.”
Utah State had its first recorded sellout in the Spectrum this season, much of which can be credited to a halftime tribute to former Aggie great Jaycee Carroll, a two-time All-American. Carroll’s #20 jersey was retired, just the fourth Aggie to ever receive the honor.
The Utah State Pep Band played the Aggies’ popular fight song, “Show Me a Scotsman” in the final minutes, and the student section began the usual hand motions to the theme. Almost as if out of gratitude for an incredible performance up to that point, nearly every fan in the stands joined in as well.
The Aggies moved to 21-7 on the season and 10-5 in the Mountain West as the regular season nears a close. Utah State will be on a two-game road trip at Wyoming and Nevada, then the Aggies will return home for the regular-season finale on March 4 against Boise State.