LOGAN — There were six former Utah State head basketball coaches in the Spectrum for Saturday night’s showdown with Boise State, and there’s no doubt that current coach Danny Sprinkle impressed them all.
The 22nd-ranked Aggies rebounded from back-to-back losses to blast the rival Broncos, 80-61, and regain sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference.
“This was a defining moment for our team,” said Sprinkle, who was very displeased with his team’s effort during last Tuesday’s home 77-63 loss to Nevada.
“Tuesday was not who we are, and it wasn’t who we’ve been all year and I don’t know if I’ve ever challenged a team as hard we challenged them. ... And they came together and played with some intent tonight, and I couldn’t be more proud of everybody.”
Utah State (20-4, 8-3) was in a four-way tie for first place heading into the weekend with Boise State (16-8, 7-4), San Diego State and New Mexico, but the Aztecs lost at Nevada on Friday and the Lobos were beaten at home by UNLV Saturday night.
“That’s great, but we’ve got to be in first place in about a month,” Sprinkle said about getting back atop the Mountain West standings.
Saturday’s win was an emotional one for the Aggies, who swept the regular-season series with the Broncos for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
That team was coached by the legendary Stew Morrill, whom Utah State paid homage to over the weekend by naming the Spectrum court in his honor.
The all-time winningest head coach in USU history, Morrill won 402 games over 17 seasons in Logan, and his family and many former players were on hand to see their former coach address the sold-out crowd of 10,270.
“This was a tremendous win, not just for the university and our team, but because coach Morrill was honored tonight and there were so many former players back,” Sprinkle said.
“It means a lot when you’re sitting in the seat that I am because I know that I’m representing Stew and every coach that came before me.”
In addition to Morrill, the five other former head coaches in attendance for Saturday night’s game represented a combined 45 seasons of Aggie basketball.
Morrill’s longtime assistant Tim Duryea (2016-18) is now in his sixth season as an assistant at Boise State, while Larry Eustachy (1994-98) has been serving as an advisor to BSU head coach Leon Rice this year.
Kohn Smith (1989-93), Rod Tueller (1980-88) and Dutch Belnap (1974-79) were also at the Spectrum, along with an estimated 65 former USU players, many of them from Morrill’s 2003-04 and 2008-09 teams, which were honored during a timeout in the first half.
Considering Morrill’s emphasis on defense and rebounding, he was surely proud of what he saw from the 2023-24 version of the Aggies.
Utah State edged the Broncos in the rebounding battle 36-35 while limiting Boise State to 35.6% shooting overall, including just 7 of 29 from 3-point range.
“You know, Sprinkle does a really good job of motivating us, and he loves to challenge people, and he challenged everyone of us — face-to-face — to work harder, and just look at the results,” USU freshman guard Mason Falslev said.
Falslev led the way offensively for the Aggies, putting up a career-high 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
The Cache Valley native, who knocked down 3-of-5 attempts from 3-point range, also caused all sorts of problems for the Broncos by relentlessly attacking the basket early in transition, much to his coach’s delight.
“(Falslev’s) mentality was like for 40 minutes,” Sprinkle said. “I haven’t seen him do that for 40 minutes before. He’s been terrific before for like 22-23 minutes, but he did it for 40 minutes tonight.
“He was aggressive and his mindset was tremendous, and everyone else seems to fed off of it when he’s aggressive like that.”
The Aggies shot 51.8% from the field for the game while knocking down 9-of-21 shots from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Darius Brown II (18 points, nine rebounds, five assists), sophomore center Isaac Johnson (14 points) and junior forward Great Osobor (10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) also scored in double figures for the home team.
Utah State, which grinded out a tough, 90-84 victory at Boise State back on Jan. 27, trailed by three points early in the game before putting together a 13-0 run that secured the Aggies the lead for the rest of the contest.
The hosts took a 41-30 advantage into halftime, then suddenly pulled away by 16 points eight minutes into the second half after back-to-back 3-pointers by Brown and Johnson.
For Sprinkle, the pinnacle moment of the game seemed to come with just under eight minutes left when USU’s defense forced Boise State’s Kobe Young to fire off a very deep 3-pointer that barely touched the bottom of the net before going out of bounds.
Sprinkle responded with a very animated fist pump, and less than a minute later, the Aggies stretched their lead to 20 points on a 3-pointer by Falslev.
“We were going into a media timeout, and our guys had just worked their butts for 30 seconds and made them shoot a 35-footer than didn’t hit the rim,” Sprinkle said, “and that’s where we win games.
“We have do that kind of stuff, and we worked on that stuff for two straight days and it came to fruition in the game.”
Boise State got 17 points from forward Tyson Degenhart, 12 from guard Max Rice and 11 from forward O’Mar Stanley before he fouled out with 4:23 left.
Sophomore guard Roddie Anderson III, the son of former USU point guard Roddie Anderson, finished with six points.
“(The Aggies) came in with two losses, and it’s a good team,” said Leon Rice, who picked up a technical foul with 16:44 remaining for arguing an offensive foul call on Anderson.
“They have a tough place to play at, and they got going from 3 a little bit. They shot the ball really well, and when they shoot the ball really well, it’s hard to guard them.”
The Aggies will return to action on Wednesday, traveling to Laramie to take on Wyoming on Valentine’s Day.
The Cowboys (12-11, 5-5) haven’t played since losing to New Mexico 91-73 on Feb. 6.