LOGAN – In a game short of offensive rhythm but full of whistles and play stoppages, Utah State survived with a 70-61 victory over Boise State on Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
“Today’s game was a grinding game,” Queta said. “Nobody played very well on the offensive end, but defensively, both teams were doing a really good job… Boise (State) is a really good team, and I feel that we just played to our strengths and I felt that we had a really good game today.”
USU’s defense flummoxed Boise State from tip-off, as the Aggies held the Broncos to 3-15 from the field through first 10 minutes. The defense begat offense, powering a 14-2 run as USU took an 18-7 lead midway through the first period. The Broncos would trim the lead to 27-20 at the 4:11 mark following two made free throws courtesy of a double-foul called on Queta and Boise State’s RJ Williams. Two immediate FTs from Queta followed by a 3-pointer from Sam Merrill once again pushed USU’s lead into double-digits where it would remain until halftime.
“It was ugly at times certainly,” head coach Craig Smith said. “It was an uneven game. I thought we got off to a very good start and had some big-time opportunities to — I don’t want to say blow them out of the water, but I felt like we could have been up by 20 pretty easy at halftime.”
In the second half, foul trouble told much of the story for both teams. In the first minute of the second half, Merrill picked up his fourth foul, forcing USU’s leading scorer to the bench for over 12 minutes of game time. Merrill’s absence set the stage for Boise’s comeback, as the Broncos went on a 9-0 run to trim USU’s lead to 42-40. The Broncos suffered from their own foul trouble, however, as both RJ Williams and Robin Jorch fouled out, leaving Boise State perilously thin in the low post and allowing Queta to run rampant.
Utah State immediately rebuilt their lead via a 7-1 run, but were unable to put the Broncos away for good. Boise State again bit into the lead, eventually cutting the lead to a single point at 60-59 with 2:33 remaining. The Aggies then went on a 10-2 run to close out the game, feasting at the FT line by going 8-8 in the final minutes to seal the win.
“I thought honestly we were just really poised during the second half when things didn’t go our way,” sophomore Justin Bean said. “Obviously, Sam (Merrill) got in foul trouble. There’s nothing you can do during those times when the calls don’t go your way. I’m sure the other team felt the same way. Honestly, at the end of the day, we just had to be the toughest team and come together and make winning plays. That’s what we did tonight.”
Queta led the effort with 21 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Merrill finished with 17 points and four assists. Senior Diogo Brito also reached double-figures with 11 points and seven rebounds. Bean added seven points and 16 rebounds.
As a team, the Aggies shot 30-35 from the FT line to Boise State’s 11-19. It was the most FT attempts by USU since attempting 45 FTs versus Montana State earlier in the season. Queta led the Aggies at the charity stripe, shooting 11-14 for the game.
“For a time, the only thing I could do was just shoot free throws,” Queta said. “As you can see, it’s working.”
Prior to and throughout the game, Utah State held several ceremonies to commemorate both 50 years of the Spectrum as well as late Aggie legends Wayne Estes and LaDell Andersen. Saturday marked the 55-year anniversary of Estes’ final game and accidental death.
“I feel like I’m the type of player that loves to live in the moment,” Bean said, “and moments like that with the 55-year anniversary of Wayne Estes — I just looked around and there was hardly an empty seat tonight. So just to have an environment like that where everyone cheered us on from the very beginning to the very end even though things didn’t go our way. It just meant a lot to me… I felt like they gave me energy tonight as they always do, so I wanted to give it back to them.”
With the victory, the Aggies moved into a tie for third place in the Mountain West standings alongside Boise State and Nevada. Courtesy of wins over Nevada and Colorado State, USU owns the tiebreaker for third place.
“This week was supposedly one of the weeks that teams would separate from each other,” Queta said. “I think that we took it the right way and just try to win both games this week, one at a time. I feel that we just have to go and play like we did Wednesday and today on Tuesday.”
Utah State’s next game could again hold major implications for seeding in the MW tournament. The Aggies travel to Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday to take on the second-place Colorado State Rams.
“Whoever comes, I think we’ll be ready for,” Queta said of potential opponents for USU in the MW tournament. “It doesn’t really matter because we know what we’ve got to do. We approach every game the same way: we’re just trying to win.”
Tip-off versus the Rams is currently scheduled for 7:30 pm MST.