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3 keys to Utah State’s runaway 69-53 win over Fresno State

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In this Jan. 27, 2021 file photo, Utah State’s Neemias Queta (23) plays against UNLV in an NCAA college basketball game.

John Locher, Associated Press

With each passing day, wins and losses become more and more important for the Utah State Aggies as they battle at the top of the Mountain West Conference.

Thursday night provided the opportunity for another Aggie victory, and USU did not squander the chance.

Utah State defeated Fresno State 69-53, improving 14-5 overall and 11-2 in the Mountain West.

“Good road win for the Aggies,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “These guys were 7-1 at home, have been out-scoring people by 15 a game at home. It wasn’t a painting by Van Gogh, it looked more like me drawing stick men. Credit them. It showed that we were — I don’t want to say rusty — but we hadn’t played a game for eight days. It takes awhile to measure the other team up. We were a little disjointed on offense, specifically in the first half. On the defensive end we had some really careless mistakes, not executing our game plan, not communicating the way we typically communicate. We gave up seven points on offensive rebounds in the first half. Rebounding was a huge key. Then just not doing what we needed to do in transition defense, I thought they hurt us that way. There were some senseless mistakes.

“I’m proud of how we played in the second half. We really established Queta inside, and that makes the game easier for everybody. I thought we defended very hard, and executed our game plan. We made it a lot more difficult for them in the second half. We had 17 assists on 26 made baskets, that’s an outstanding number. Our bench was outstanding tonight, we scored 32 points off the bench. Our bench was big for us tonight.”

Here are three keys to the Aggies’ win over the Bulldogs:

Second half surge

Things were close between Utah State and Fresno State throughout the first half and a few minutes into the second half. After all, the Aggies led by only four points at halftime, 33-29.

Just before the midpoint of the second frame, though, the game shifted. USU outscored Fresno State 14-3 during a six minute window, the last four minutes of which included an 11-0 Aggie run.

After that, the game was in Utah State’s complete control, and Fresno State never got within 10 points the rest of the way.

Defense does the job, again

Utah State’s defense keyed the game-changing run. During the 14-3 run, Fresno State made only 1 of 10 field goal attempts, missing seven consecutive shots.

By the end of the game, the Bulldogs had shot a measly 37% from the field, making only 20 of 54 shot attempts, including a woeful 4 of 19 from behind the arc.

Fresno State’s starting lineup made only nine field goals, despite attempting 34.

Bench mob

While the best player for Utah State was once again center Neemias Queta, the Aggies’ bench had a notable impact in the proceedings, especially Alphonso Anderson and Steven Ashworth. The duo combined to score 23 points — fellow reserve Trevin Dorius added nine points — and each made two shots from 3-point range.

Anderson scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds, while Ashworth scored 10 points and handed out a game-high four assists