There’s a special kind of crazy that happens when Utah State puts on the annual “Spectrum Magic” basketball game.
“Crazy” could be defined as a shutting down a top-15 offense for an entire half of basketball, or it could mean a 6-foot-11 interior scorer taking a drive from the top of the key.
On a late Wednesday night in Logan, it was all of the above.
With nearly 9,000 fans clad in various shades of orange, yellow and tan—mimicking Dee Glen Smith Spectrum’s 53-year-old seats of the same colors—Utah State claimed the best win of its season in an 84-73 win over New Mexico. The Aggies handed the Lobos just their fourth loss of the season while moving to an impressive 11-1 in the Spectrum.
“(It was a) tremendous crowd tonight,” Aggies coach Ryan Odom said. “Great to have our students packed like that for Spectrum (Magic)…that’s really special for our guys, special for our students, special for our university to have that type of atmosphere. Obviously, it’s one of the best in the country…We can’t do what we do or win at the level that we aspire to win at without them.”
Utah State controlled the game nearly from the tip as they led the entire game outside of the 28 seconds prior to the Aggies’ first made basket—a 3 from junior guard Steven Ashworth. Outside of a 14-2 run that kept UNM in the game early on, Utah State outscored the Lobos 44-13 before halftime.
In a game full of intriguing, the list of unexpected occurrences on Utah State’s side got longer as the game went on.
First, in a game that featured the Lobos’ 15th-ranked scoring offense against Utah State’s 26th-ranked offense, the Aggies got disruptive in the second half, forcing eight turnovers, and held UNM to just 40% from the field in the first half en route to a commanding 46-27 halftime lead.
Then, senior guard Sean Bairstow came up big for the Aggies tying his career-high with 20 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. The senior averages just 10.7 points per game.
Grad forward Taylor Funk, one of the Aggies’ most reliable catch-and-shoot players from the arc, was 0-5 from the line but utilized some uncommon driving and midrange offense.
To make things even more fun, senior Dan Akin finished with 16 points, including a rare occurrence of him driving from the top of the key to finish an and-one layup at a critical late-game juncture.
“Dan certainly is very fast — he can get by his man when he wants to,” Odom said. “The key is him having the space to do that.”
The Aggies forced contact against a Lobos team not accustomed to giving up many fouls. As a result, Utah State went to the line for a season-record-tying 31 free throw attempts and made a season-high 27 FTs. They went 16 of 20 from the stripe in the second half, a huge factor when the Lobos inevitably started making shots, outscoring USU 46-38 in the second half.
USU entered the game fifth in the Mountain West. After having gone 0-3 in games against teams above them in the conference standings by a 16-point average margin of loss, getting ahead early, and staying ahead of the Lobos, was much-needed proof that the Aggies are indeed a contender in the MW. A point clearly missed by NCAA Tournament bracket predictions that have left the Aggies out for several weeks.
“It means a lot,” Bairstow said of the win. “It shows that we belong like we have believed all season that we do. (It’s a) big statement win for us.”
The Aggies improved to 18-5 overall with a 7-3 record in conference play. They’ll head to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State on Friday before returning home for another big time matchup with San Diego State on Feb. 8.