LOGAN – Before Saturday, 2020 had not been kind to Utah State with the Aggies going winless in their three games in the new year.
The Aggies bounced back with authority, leading wire-to-wire in a 80-70 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The win broke a three-game losing skid for USU.
“Feels good to get back on track,” head coach Craig Smith said. “I thought we had a great team effort. I thought we played very, very connected on offense and defense… I thought our guys made a lot of winning plays. A lot of people would say the ‘little things.’ We never refer to those things as little things. Those are winning plays. You can go right down the lineup with guys who did that.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going, as USU led 9-6 at the 12:29 mark of the first half. Following the slow start, however, the Aggies wasted little time in opening up a lead on the visiting Wolf Pack, going on a 15-2 run over the next four-and-a-half minutes. Nevada responded with an immediate 10-0 run to trim the lead to 24-18 in favor of the Aggies, before USU answered with their own 8-0 run to stem the momentum and enter halftime with a 32-23 lead.
“I thought we responded really well to obviously another tough loss on Tuesday,” senior Sam Merrill said. “It was a tough week for us, the past ten days or so, and we really took what happened on Tuesday night personal… Thought we had a really good night defensively. That was what had to be the key.”
Sophomore Neemias Queta opened the second half with a layup which stretched USU’s lead into double digits, where the Aggies would maintain the advantage through the remainder of the second half. The lead grew to as large as 18 points on several occasions, allowing USU to coast to the final buzzer.
Queta led USU with 19 points and seven rebounds. Merrill flirted with a triple-double, posting 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Freshman Sean Bairstow played a season-high in minutes versus a Division-I opponent, tallying eight points and three assists in 23 minutes.
“Just trying to learn as much as I can each and every day,” Bairstow said. “We’ve got some really good senior guards ahead of me… I’ve learned so much from them in the last six months. They’ve told me from day one to just go and play hard. Continue to do that and I’ll be fine.”
Junior Abel Porter pitched in a well-rounded performance featuring 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Senior Diogo Brito and sophomore Brock Miller were the final Aggies in double digits. Miller ended with 11 points while Brito finished with 1 points alongside six rebounds.
The win was Utah State’s first in 2020 after three straight in-conference losses versus UNLV, San Diego State and Air Force. USU is now 3-3 in Mountain West play and in sixth place in the standings.
“It’s pretty obvious the last four or so games that we had to get back to who we are and what we are,” coach Smith said, “and that was a monster emphasis in practice the last two days. We had some heart-to-heart meetings as a team, and give our guys a lot of credit. A lot of guys take responsibility on themselves that we need to be better… Rebounding, that’s a mentality. It comes with positioning. It comes by having an attitude and just wanting to go and get that thing.”
After the toughest stretch of coach Smith’s tenure at Utah State, the Aggies will look to recover during a rare off-week. USU returns to the court on Saturday at Boise State before returning home for a rematch with Air Force on Tuesday, January 21.
“It’ll be nice to hopefully get some guys healthy and also get some time to focus on ourselves and what we need to get better at,” Merrill said. “It was great to get a win tonight but we still have a long ways to go to get back to the top. It’ll be nice to have a couple days to both rest and work on ourselves as a team.”
Tip-off at the Broncos is currently set for Saturday at 8:00 pm MST.