LOGAN — Due to heavy snow falling in Cache Valley and the surrounding canyons, several announcements were made during Friday night’s Nevada-Utah State game at the Spectrum about the treacherous conditions fans might encounter out on the roadways.
But it was on the court that the Aggies very nearly let the treacherous conditions of a Nevada comeback take away a vital victory.
After trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, the Nevada Wolf Pack trimmed Utah State’s advantage down to as few as two points in the final 32 seconds, but the Aggies managed to survive a severe offensive drought by knocking down just enough free throws to pull out a 75-72 victory.
“Overall, we played together, we played connected, but we didn’t always play smart there are the end,” USU junior forward Justin Bean said, “but we found a way to win, and that’s been our motto from day one, is just find a way to win. No matter how pretty or how ugly the wins are, winning games in this league is tough, even at home.”
The Aggies (15-7 overall, 12-4 in the Mountain West) hadn’t played a home game since Jan. 21 due to three road trips and some COVID-19 issues, but the team was able to rebound after two disappointing losses at Boise State last week.
Bean led the way for Utah State with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while frontcourt mate Neemias Queta also racked up a double-double with 16 points and 17 rebounds. Senior forward Alphonso Anderson added 10 points and three 3-pointers in his first start of the season, and junior Brock Miller also added 10 points and three treys despite being hampered by back problems the entire second half.
The Aggies, who shot 44.2% from the field as a team, built their lead early on the strength of an 11 for 21 performance from 3-point range. But going 18 of 27 from the free-throw line helped salvage the victory, most notably Queta’s 10 for 14 effort.
“We’re excited to get the win. Winning is very hard in college basketball, we all know that,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “I thought we played very well in a lot of stretches tonight. Obviously we didn’t finish the game out like we wanted to, but part of that you have to credit to Nevada. Nevada is a very good team.”
Although the Wolf Pack (14-8, 9-6) came into Friday’s contest with a four-game wining streak, Steve Alford’s squad hadn’t played since its season-altering sweep of Boise State on Feb. 5 and 7. That long layoff seemed evident in the first half as Nevada shot just 34.6% and trailed 41-25 at intermission.
But sparked by junior guard Desmond Cambridge (23 points, five 3-pointers) and some hot shooting late in the contest by sophomore guard Grant Sherfield (11 points) and K.J. Himes (15 points), Nevada ended up shooting 46.9% in the second half while knocking down 13 of 26 3-point attempts for the game.
“I thought we showed a lot of rust tonight, and obviously we’re playing a good team in their building,” Alford said. “But I thought we settled down in the last 15 minutes and did a lot of good things, both offensively and defensively. We had 22 fouls, they had nine. Our centers had 10 fouls, theirs had one. That’s hard to overcome, but I thought our guys really battled.”
Clock issues in the early seconds of the game led to a 12-minute delay right at the start of the contest, and after going up 6-0, the Aggies were suddenly trailing 13-11. But after a brief clunky stretch, the hosts went on a 21-5 run to go up by as many as 16 points in the first half.
Miller, who missed the final 20 seconds of the opening half after aggravating his back, came in and buried his first 3-pointer of the game just 26 seconds into the second half. Two free throws from Bean and a layup by Marco Anthony left Utah State up 48-27 with 17:51 to go, but that would be as good as things got for the Aggies.
“No matter how pretty or how ugly the wins are, winning games in this league is tough, even at home.” — Utah State’s Justin Bean
After holding a 64-46 advantage with 11 minutes left, Utah State struggled for every score the rest of the way while Nevada just kept cutting into USU’s lead. Free throws by Queta helped keep the Pack at bay, but a 21-5 surge by the guests had the crowd of 1,633 fans extremely nervous.
But somehow Miller and the Aggies both gutted it out, despite the Pack getting to within two points twice in the final 32 seconds. Fortunately for the home team, Miller was able to come up with a steal after a pass went through Cambridge’s hands, and he managed to hit one of two free throws to leave Utah State up 74-69.
Nevada quickly countered with a 3-pointer from Daniel Foster to get back to within two pints with five seconds remaining, but the Aggies got the ball into Steven Ashworth against Nevada’s press and the freshman guard hit one of two free throws. The Pack’s final chance, a 65-foot heave by Cambridge, came up just short, primarily because he was being harassed by Queta for much of the final 2.8 seconds on the clock.
“Obviously the first half was much better than the second just in terms of taking care of the ball and then just defensively we did a good job of limiting their possessions early on,” Bean said. “I thought we did a good job of just trying to contain (Sherfield) and (Cambridge) early on. We know that when those guys get hot, that they get going and they’re lethal offensively.
“... You’ve got to tip you hat to them. They made some plays there at the end. So, we’ve just got to watch the film, make adjustments and come back with even more vigor and just be smarter coming into the next game.”
Nevada and Utah State will hook up again in less than 48 hours for a very rare Sunday game at the Spectrum. Miller’s back issues could clearly be a factor in that game, while Smith said the Aggies are still unsure when Rollie Worster might be able to return. The freshman guard hasn’t played since the end of January due to what is believed to be a stress fracture in his right foot.
“He has a lower leg injury; I won’t get into specifics,” Smith replied when asked about the status of Worster, who is averaging 9.6 points per game. “He is making progress, but there’s no time table on when he might be back.”