Utah State defense smothers Weber State in 89-34 win

LOGAN – Utah State forced 19 turnovers and held Weber State to only 22 percent from the floor en route to a dominating 89-34 win on Friday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. It was USU’s ninth-largest margin of victory in program history and largest over a Division-1 opponent in nearly 50 years.

“This game felt a lot different than the last couple we played,” sophomore Justin Bean said. “I thought we came out and did a great job defensively setting the tone. We really locked in this week on personnel and plays they were calling out… We were really locked in mentally which I think really showed on the court tonight.”

The teams traded buckets for the first few minutes of the contest. A 3-pointer from Weber State’s Israel Barnes put the Wildcats up 6-4 with 17:29 remaining. Utah State would not allow another field goal until 5:49 remaining in the half. USU’s defensive prowess powered a 44-7 run to close the half and help build a 48-13 Aggie lead at the break. All told in the first 20 minutes, Utah State held the Wildcats to 18 percent shooting from the field and only two points in the paint. Offensively, the Aggies dominated in the half-court, shooting 51 percent from the field and turning the ball only four times.

“Every media timeout,” Bean said, “(Head coach Criag Smith) says ‘seven straight stops! Ten straights stops!’ He’s always telling us how many stops we’re getting in a row to really kind of energize us and encourage us to keep going. He tells us to play the same way all 40 minutes.”

Utah State’s defensive intensity hardly relented in the second half, building the lead to as large as 57 points in the final minutes. With Coach Smith opting to rest starters, USU’s second unit and bench reserves continue to pester Weber State, holding the Wildcats to only 25 percent shooting from the floor and 17 percent from behind the arc. Defense translated to offense, as the Aggies assisted on 26 of their 37 field goals while shooting 55 percent from the field.

“It was really nice to see us share the ball, kind of get back to that culture we built last year,” junior Abel Porter said. “But definitely you could see the energy. I felt like we were playing defense first, letting that flow into our offense and we got really good looks because of it and just the energy and unselfishness that we played with got us really easy baskets and that’s what got us going at the beginning of the game.”

The 34 points allowed by Utah State are the fewest allowed by the Aggies since defeating CS Fullerton 115-60 on December 23, 1972. 22 percent from the field is also the lowest field goal percentage allowed by USU since December 15, 2018 versus Alabama State.

“At the end of the day,” coach Smith said, “48-8 in the paint and to hold them to 13 points (in the first half), that is incredibly difficult to do, but our guys were locked in.”

USU had five players reach double-digits in scoring. Bean led Utah State with 18 points, nearly posting a second straight double-double with nine rebounds. Senior Sam Merrill added 14 points along with six rebounds and six assists. Senior Diogo Brito finished with 12 points and three assists. Sophomore Brock Miller posted 12 points, while Porter tallied his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists.

“We love versatility. We try to recruit versatile guys that can be put in a lot of different positions,” coach Smith said. “That can be tough not so much for our coaching staff, but it can be tough on your guys because they might not know exactly where you’re going to play them on a certain night and how you’re going to utilize them, so they have to ready for everything.”

Following Tuesday’s nail-biting contest versus Montana State, Friday’s result served as a resounding affirmation of Utah State’s preseason hype, even with Weber State playing without star player Jerrick Harding and Utah State without Neemias Queta. On Tuesday, JC transfer Alphonso Anderson shined as a small-ball center. On Friday, JC transfer Kuba Karwowski filled Queta’s missing minutes, going for six points and six rebounds while anchoring the Aggie defense.

“To hold a team like that to 13 points in a half and then have the ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ to keep competing over and over and over again, I just think it says a lot about our team and how connected they are,” coach Smith said, “because it’s hard to do. It is so hard to do and you have to be disciplines and strong-minded and strong-willed.”

Utah State will look to follow up Friday night’s performance on Tuesday versus Denver in the Spectrum. Tip-off is currently scheduled for 7:00 pm MST.

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