There was no storming of the court this time after the Aggies knocked off a ranked opponent at the Spectrum. But make no mistake, Tuesday night’s 68-63 win over 19th-ranked San Diego State was absolutely worthy of a celebration. 

“I know we’re not getting ice cream, but they should just give everybody ice cream anyway after this one,” proclaimed USU head coach Danny Sprinkle, referencing the Culver’s promotion that rewards Aggie fans anytime their team scores 80 or more points. 

“I’m obviously super proud of our team the way they responded against a team that was the national runner-up last year, with a lot of players back.”

The Aggies (22-5, 10-4), who were tied for first place in the Mountain West with the Aztecs (20-7, 9-5) coming into the game, had a woeful performance at Colorado State last Saturday. Utah State lost to the Rams by 20 points in Fort Collins after beating then-13th ranked CSU at the Spectrum on Jan. 6.

Utah State looked like a very different, much more determined team on Tuesday while taking over sole possession for first place and becoming just the third Aggie team ever to beat two or more ranked opponents in the same season. The 1959-60 team beat three teams in the AP Top 25, while the 2006-07 squad beat two ranked opponents. 

“I think a lot of times people hit the panic button on us when things go bad,” noted graduate senior guard Darius Brown II. “But we knew this whole week that if we defended, rebounded and limiting their second-chance points that we’d be fine. 

“I know this team. I know we’re fighters. And I knew we’d fine.”

Brown certainly backed up that confidence by leading all scorers with 25 points in 39 minutes in a winning effort. The Southern California native went 8 of 13 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and delivered some of the biggest plays of the game for the Aggies. 

“Darius is from Pasadena, right up the road from San Diego State, and watched them growing up,” Sprinkle noted. “I’m really proud of his effort, and all the guys. I told them before the game that this was a chance to show how great they are. ‘This is why you came to play in the Mountain West, on national TV against a national runner-up. Go show who you are.’ And they did.”

The Aggies, who lost at San Diego State, 81-67, on Feb. 3, also got 17 points from Brown’s former Montana State teammate, Great Osobor. The junior forward scored 13 of those points in the second half, while also adding seven rebounds and seven assists. 

Sprinkle definitely enjoyed watching his leading scorer go toe-to-toe in the paint with SDSU’s top scorer Jameson LeDee, who led the Aztecs with 23 points on 8 of 13 shooting. 

“That was like two big hogs, just literally mud wrestling the entire game,” Sprinkle said of the Osobor vs. LeDee matchup. “I mean, those are two of the best bigs in the country going at it for 40 minutes on offense and defense, and it was fun to watch.”

Utah State, which also got 10 points from freshman guard Mason Falslev, ended up shooting 49% as a team for the game, including a 7-for-22 effort from 3-point range. 

San Diego State won the rebounding battle, 34-31, and the Aztecs shot 42.9% for the game. But a 3-of-19 performance from beyond the arc certainly hurt their chances of sweeping the season series from the Aggies. 

“Darius Brown was sensational. 8 for 13, 5 for 9 from 3, 4 for 4 from the foul line. He played sensational,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said. “And (Great) Osobor does what he does. Solid game. Two-for-two at half. We were doubling when he was passing it out, did a good job moving the ball. But we didn’t make enough timely plays. 

“As uninspired as we looked like we played at times, we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Utah State opened the game with a confidence-building 6-0 burst as the Aztecs missed their first six shot attempts and didn’t notch their first field goal until nearly four minutes into the contest. San Diego State rebounded to lead by as many as three points midway through the first half, but the Aggies closed out the half with an 8-1 run that left the hosts up 31-26 at halftime.

Brown, who scored the final bucket of the first half, then opened the second half with a 3-pointer that ended up as a five-point play for the Aggies when Isaac Johnson turned a SDSU foul into a layup that left USU suddenly up by 10 points. 

“That was huge,” Sprinkle said of the 5-0 second-half start. “And that was due to an effort play by Fish (Johnson), who was tackled when going to the offensive glass. 

“We always talk about winning the last four minutes of the first half, and the first four minutes of the second half because a lot of teams lose games in those eight minutes of a game.”

San Diego State eventually ended up trimming USU’s lead down to just one point at 59-58 with just over five minutes left, but an offensive putback by Johnson helped steady the ship and the Aggies ended up never trailing in the second half. 

The biggest shot of the game was delivered by Brown with two minutes left. Working down low, Osobor had his shot attempt come up short, but Falslev flew into the paint to tip the rebound out to Brown on the perimeter. 

“Shout out to Mason for crashing. We were talking about rebounding and Mason came in and crashed and got a tip. I happened to be right in the area and it landed right to me,” Brown recalled. “I saw the shot clock was close to two seconds, so I knew I just had to put the shot up. Luckily when Mason tipped it, I caught it in perfect rhythm.”

Brown knocked down the 3-pointer to stake the Aggies to a 64-58 lead that forced Dutcher into using a timeout. 

The crowd of 9,233 then weathered a couple of tense minutes that included Osobor blocking away a key shot attempt by LeDee and two clutch free throws by Falslev that all but secured the victory for the Aggies, who now control their own destiny with four games left to play. Utah State has this weekend off before returning to action Feb. 27 at Fresno State.