LOGAN — Exactly one year after clobbering Eastern Oregon by 27 points, the Aggies fared far better against the NAIA Mountaineers in the rematch Saturday afternoon, despite having standouts Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta on the bench the entire game. 

“It was a great team effort,” USU head coach Craig Smith said of USU’s 129-61 victory at the Spectrum. “We played super hard and very disciplined, and you can see that the guys are having a lot of fun while we’re out there.”

The Aggies (13-2) dominated the Mountaineers (7-6) even without the services of Merrill and Queta, who scored nearly half of USU’s points in last year’s 84-57 win (Merrill had 28 points in that game and Queta scored 13). Merrill has been battling a bad ankle all season, while Queta, who went knee-to-knee with an opposing player in Utah State’s win over Florida last week, is expected to be able to return to action again on Wednesday when the Aggies resume Mountain West play at UNLV.

Without Merrill and Queta, Utah State only dressed nine players, but eight of those nine ended up scoring in double figures, while the only one who didn’t — senior guard Diogo Brito — did rack up a career-best 11 assists and nine rebounds to go with his five points. 

As a team, the Aggies totaled a school-record 36 assists on their way to the third-largest margin of victory in USU history. The Aggies’ 129 points were also the most ever scored in a regulation contest by a Utah State team and the highest-scoring total since USU put up 140 points in a triple-overtime loss to UNLV in 1985. 

“I love how we played; I thought we really shared the ball,” Smith said. “It’s amazing how that works, when you share the ball how all of a sudden you start shooting the ball a lot better. I’m not saying we were selfish before, but you can see our offense really starting to gain some momentum here the last three or four games.”

Utah State shot 58.2% as a team for the game — including a stunning 69.4% in the second half — and managed to stretch a 66-30 halftime lead out to as many as 72 points in the final minute of the game. The Aggies also outrebounded the much smaller Mountaineers by a 63-24 margin.

Although he clearly got fatigued at times, no one seemed to enjoy himself more than USU center Kuba Karwowski, who came off the bench to score 16 points and pull down eight rebounds in 18 minutes. The 7-foot-2 junior, who was a starter early in the season, hadn’t seen game action since having his appendix removed a month ago.

“That was my first game after two days of practices, so I can still feel that I’m not in shape like I’m supposed to be,” Karwowski said. “But I was surprised that I was able to play like I played today. I feel healthy, and I’m ready to go.”

Sophomore guard Brock Miller led the Aggies with 25 points and four 3-pointers, while forwards Justin Bean and Alphonso Anderson joined Karwowski with 16 points. Senior forward Roche Grootfaam, who has seen little action this season coming off a knee injury, came off the bench to contribute 13 points in just 14 minutes. 

“It felt great; it’s been a long process with my injury and all that,” Grootfaam said. “It felt good that my coach has the trust in me to put me out there and believe that I’ll get the job done. It felt great to be out there.”

Utah State freshman guard Sean Bairstow set career-highs in points (14), rebounds (six) and minutes (31), while freshman center Trevin Dorius and junior guard Abel Porter both finished with 12 points. 

In addition to his 16 points, Bean also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds to notch his ninth double-double of the season despite playing with a heavy heart. The sophomore forward from Moore, Oklahoma, had his parents and many other family members watching from the Spectrum stands following the funeral for his maternal grandfather, Keith Hart, on Friday in Idaho Falls, Idaho. 

Bean started the game but was taken out less than four minutes in with the Aggies up 13-9. With the sophomore on the bench, USU struggled through its only rough stretch of the afternoon, prompting Smith to plug the energetic forward back into the game three minutes later. 

Up 17-12 at the time, the Aggies promptly went on a tear with Bean back on the floor, going on a 24-6 run over the next six-plus minutes that set the tone of the remainder of the contest. 

“The game changed, and it’s funny after watching this game from last year. Last year was a very sluggish start for both teams,” Smith said. “... But last year we put in Bean, and that’s kind of when Bean started playing more was a year ago tonight on Dec. 28 because the game changed last year when we put him in the game.

“Tonight, we’re scoring but then shot like four straight 3s and lacked ball movement, no offensive rebounding. And then we put him back in, and the next thing you know, the lead just skyrockets. Justin’s obviously playing at a very, very high level, and guys feed off of his intensity and his toughness and he knows how to play. So, usually good things happen when he’s on the floor.”

Eastern Oregon’s biggest player, 7-foot senior center Jared Schetzle, fouled out early in the second half. But despite playing just 12 minutes, Schetzle still led the Mountaineers with 13 points, while junior guard Max McCullough added 12 as the EOU shot just 32.4% as a team.