It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean.
The Aggies will take the result, though, and the growth that comes with it.
Utah State went punch-for-punch with Utah Valley University Friday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, coming out on top 65-46 in a physical battle that saw both teams combine for 38 fouls, 29 turnovers and 87 rebounds. The win brought the Aggies to 4-0 on the season. It was Utah State’s second of four games in the MGM Resorts Main Event Tournament, which will continue next week.
“I went to the dentist about two weeks ago and I didn’t have to have a root canal, but tonight I felt like I had a root canal watching us on offense in the half court for a while,” USU head coach Craig Smith quipped. “But, the one thing that travels every night is defense. Our guys took great pride.”
A gutsy performance by Quin Taylor paced the Aggies (4-0). The senior forward thrived in the physicality on his way to recording the third double-double of his career. Taylor pulled down 15 rebounds and scored 10 points in 24 minutes of play. Five of Taylors rebounds came on the offensive end, and he accumulated nine of them in the first half alone against the Wolverines (1-3).
“I like it a lot,” Taylor said when asked about playing in a physical game. “Knowing that you can kind of hit someone, because there’s times that you don’t know how they’re going to call it. The refs called it pretty good this game and didn’t fluctuate in what they called. It was a fun game.”
Two big defensive stands propelled the Aggies. The first came at the end of the first half. Utah State recorded eight consecutive defensive stops to spur a 12-0 Aggie run over the course of the final four minutes of the half. Utah State took a 32-20 lead into the locker room.
It didn’t end there for the Aggies – their defense stood its ground again in the second half. With 9:23 left in the game, Utah State held a 10-point lead. A bevy of forced turnovers fed a 14-0 USU run over the next five minutes. A trio of Aggies came up with huge defensive plays during the stretch. John Knight III had three steals, while Brock Miller chipped in a steal and Neemias Queta blocked a shot.
Knight III was a huge boost offensively during the run as well. He came off of the bench and had a pair of thunderous breakaway dunks that bookended a big 3-pointer. Knight III finished the game with nine points and four steals in 18 minutes, and each of his three buckets during the scoring streak brought the Spectrum crowd to its collective feet.
“The crowd was awesome tonight,” USU guard Sam Merrill said. “That was maybe as loud as it’s been since I’ve been here in my three years. Credit to them, we’re really happy with what they’ve done and hopefully we can keep growing in that aspect.”
While it wasn’t always pretty on offense, the Aggies deserve a lot of credit for their defensive effort. UVU guard Jake Toolson came into the game averaging 13.7 points per game. The Aggies held him to four points on 2 of 5 from the floor while forcing him to turn the ball over five times. In total, UVU shot 30.9% from the field and coughed up the ball 17 times.
“Jake Toolson is a really, really good player,” Smith said. “To hold him to four points speaks volumes.”
Another area of success for the Aggies came on the glass. USU snagged 50 rebounds as a team in a game in which there were a lot of rebounds to be had. The Aggies went 25 of 69 from the floor on the night.
Merrill was his usual reliable self. He wasn’t as dialed in from outside – the junior went 1 of 7 from behind the arc – but he fought his way to a team-high 14 points.
“I got some shots that I feel like I normally make and just missed them,” Merrill said. “Conner Toolson was guarding me most of the game and I thought he did a pretty good job. We’re a team and we had so many guys step up and make plays.”
TJ Washington scored 14 for the Wolverines in the loss, and teammate Conner Toolson added 11. The Wolverines dropped their third-consecutive game after losing to BYU and Saint Mary’s prior to their trip to Logan.
As physical as things were, the Aggies got a little banged up. Queta rolled his ankle and left the game, but returned a few minutes later. Miller did the same, and Diogo Brito hobbled off of the floor in the final few minutes.
“We got banged up this game,” Smith said. “… Those are three guys that we’re going to have to see what happens with them. You never want to see that happen but it’s always a next man up mentality.”
Utah State will take to the road next week to close out the MGM Resorts Main Event. The Aggies will face Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas on Tuesday at 6:30 PM before playing either Arizona State or Mississippi State on Thursday.