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Utah State starts slow but pulls away to beat NAIA’s College of Idaho

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Utah State forward Justin Bean celebrates during at timeout against New Mexico during an NCAA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP)

Eli Lucero, Herald Journal/Associated Press

LOGAN — Three minutes into the second half, Tuesday night’s game at the Spectrum was Coyote ugly as far the Utah State Aggies were concerned. 

A 3-pointer by College of Idaho guard Jalen Galloway capped a 12-0 run that staked the visitors to a 45-44 lead and had the NAIA Coyotes from Caldwell feeling like they might just be able to pull off an upset. 

But sparked by its full-court defensive pressure, Utah State suddenly flipped the script, embarking on a 30-5 run over the next nine minutes that quickly left COI in the Aggies’ rearview mirror. 

“The second half was a little tight there for a little while, but our calling card was just on the defensive end,” USU assistant coach Eric Peterson said after USU’s 90-64 victory. “They had 12 points in 24 possessions in the second half, and I thought we did a much better job defensively and it helped us offensively. College of Idaho is a good team, and our intent was to get better, and I felt we did get better throughout this game.” 

Peterson served as head coach for the second straight game due to Craig Smith’s COVID-19 diagnosis last week, but adding to Utah State’s coronavirus-related challenges on Tuesday was the absence of four players as well. Junior guard Marco Anthony was missing, along with senior center Kuba Karwowski and freshmen guards Max Shulga and Zahar Vedischev.

“I don’t know how much I can say without giving specifics,” Peterson said. “But we’re going through medical protocols to ensure the safety of our guys and the well-being of our guys and everyone involved, and that’s in accordance with Utah State, the Mountain West and the NCAA.”

A starter in USU’s first four games, Anthony is second on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game. Sophomore Sean Bairstow started in Anthony’s place, scoring 11 points with two 3-pointers in 33 minutes, while freshman guard Steven Ashworth also stepped up his play, coming off the bench to total a career-high 15 points and seven assists in 32 minutes. 

A Lone Peak High product fresh off a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Indianapolis, Ashworth went 4 for 7 from the field, 1 for 3 from 3-point and 6 of 9 from the free-throw line.

“I thought Steven was really good in our press,” Peterson noted. “When we started pressing, he kind of gave us some energy and he was a huge part of it. We’re very happy with how he played tonight, and we’re excited to see how he progresses in the next few games while getting more confidence from playing.”

The Aggies (2-4) also got a season-high 21 points from junior forward Justin Bean, 11 points from freshman guard Rollie Worster and eight points and eight rebounds from junior center Neemias Queta. Sophomore center Trevin Dorius added 9 points in 16 minutes, helping to give the Aggies their best bench game (37 total points) of the season. 

Utah State beat the College of Idaho 103-66 in an exhibition game last year, and that Yotes team ended up going 31-3.

The Yotes (1-2) gave the Aggies trouble for much of Tuesday’s game thanks to their perimeter shooting, but after going 7 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half, COI cooled off a bit to go 5 of 18 in the second half. 

Ricardo Time helped the Yotes quickly rebound from a 44-33 halftime deficit with six straight points to open the second half, and the senior guard ended up scoring a team-high 16.

College of the Idaho shot 38.6% as a team and were outrebounded by Utah State, 40-24. The Aggies shot 51.7% for the game, while going 4 of 12 from 3-point range.

“I definitely think this was the battle that we were expecting,” Ashworth said. “They might not be a Division I team, but they were a team that was ready. They were well-coached, they ran their sets. Defensively, we knew that was a thing we had to get better at, we had to be a more versatile defensive team, so I think later on in that second half we really stepped it up.”

Utah State is expected to have Smith back on the sidelines for Saturday afternoon’s game at Weber State, but no announcement has been made about his status yet.