Utah State snapped an 11-game losing streak versus San Diego State with a resounding 70-54 victory on Tuesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The win sets up a match-up with Nevada at the Spectrum for first place in the Mountain West.
“Tonight was a fun night,” senior Quinn Taylor said. “I feel like we came out with an edge and played 40 minutes with an edge… We want to be the toughest team anyone plays. We want them to leave the gym saying, ‘we don’t want to see those guys again.’ I think we did a great job tonight of that with our rebounding effort and our defensive effort… It was a great gameplan and we just played with great energy and it was a lot of fun.”
Neither team broke 40 percent shooting in the first half, as two of the best statistical defenses in the MW put an immediate imprint on the game. The Aztecs particularly struggled, shooting only 15 percent on 2-point field goal attempts, and 21.4 percent overall. Offensively, the Aggies lived at the rim, outscoring SDSU in the paint 22-6 en route to a 31-21 halftime lead.
“I think a big thing was our points in the paint,” Taylor said. “That’s going to be a tell of who’s playing a little harder, who’s diving for 50-50 balls. That’s kind of just the chemistry or the way that coach wants us to play. Go out there and give it our all and I think everyone who got in tonight was able to do that.” Utah State finished the game with 46 points in the paint to SDSU’s 20.
Freshman Justin Bean provided the initial spark for USU in the second half, scoring the Aggies’ first six points. A 10-4 run from SDSU trimmed USU’s lead to six points. Utah State responded with a 14-5 run to again push the lead into double-digits which remained through the rest of the game.
“We knew that had to be the difference-maker in this game was to be more physical and be more aggressive,” said Bean, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. “It showed defensively and offensively.”
Junior Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 19 points on the night. Taylor notched his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Diogo Brito added 12 points plus four rebounds and three assists off the bench. Sophomore Abel Porter grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with five assists.
“It’s always a good feeling to get a win,” Taylor said, “especially if it’s a first time against a team since we joined the MW. It was good to go out and show our fans. We got the place packed and we want to be able to perform every time they get there because it really helps us.”
A nearly-full student section relished the Aggies’ first victory over San Diego State since 1998, unleashing an “up-by-20” chant following a layup from Merrill that gave USU a 64-44 victory.
“That was awesome,” Bean said. “That’s really about all I can say to sum that up. It was electrifying. The fans were amazing. You could definitely just get a taste for what ‘Spectrum Magic’ was and you could feel that from the very beginning, from tip-off.”
With the victory, coach Smith set the program record for most wins in a first season at Utah State with 23. Ladell Andersen originally set the record with 22 victories in 1962.
“Here’s what it tells you,” coach Smith said, “we have great players. We have players that are seriously all in. We have a great coaching staff… At the end of the day, when you surround yourself with great people, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. I think that’s where the credit certainly goes.”
On Saturday, the Aggies will have the opportunity to continue the season’s run of “Spectrum Magic” when MW-leading Nevada visits Logan. With a win, USU would tie Nevada for first place in the MW. The Wolf Pack took the first game of the season series with a 72-49 win in the first game of MW play.
“They’re really good. They’re the defending MW champs. They went to the Sweet Sixteen (of the NCAA Tournament) last year. They have it all… At the end of the day, we just have to play Aggie basketball. We have to not overthink it, not make it bigger than it is, and just keep on playing the way we’ve been playing from day one.”
Tip-off on Saturday is scheduled for 6:30 pm MST.