Utah State ramps up defense to pull away from Northern Colorado for 63-50 win

Utah State guard Marco Anthony (44) dribbles the ball as Northern Colorado guard Rodrick McCobb defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

LOGAN, Utah – Utah State returned to the court for the first time since having its previous two games canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, and the 10-day layoff definitely had an effect on the Aggies.

But not enough to keep them from posting a victory in head coach Craig Smith’s return to the bench.

Redshirt junior guard Marco Anthony scored 19 points and junior forward Justin Bean had a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds as the Aggies pulled away for a 63-50 win over Northern Colorado in a non-conference men’s basketball game Friday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

“I thought it was a great game for the Aggies,” said Smith, who hadn’t coached Utah State (3-3) since Nov. 27, missing two games, after testing positive for the coronavirus. “Northern Colorado is good. They have a winning pedigree and a winning culture. They’ve been really good the last four or five years, so they understand how to win.”

Daylen Kountz led the Bears (3-2) with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks, while Kur Jockuch added 11 points and Bodie Hume chipped in 10.

Following a defensive rebound by Hume and a Jockuch layup at the other end of the court, Northern Colorado found itself up 36-32 with 16:06 to go in the game.

“They were coming off a few games, they’d been in in a rhythm this last week and we hadn’t played in 10 days,” Bean said. “It was big for us to lock in to our scout. We had a few great practices this week. I’m really proud of our guys of how we accepted the challenge on short notice and beat a really good Northern Colorado team.”

After Jockuch’s layup, the Aggies ratcheted up their defense and held the Bears to just 10 points over the next 14-plus minutes. During that game-changing stretch, Northern Colorado committed six turnovers and made just three of its 17 shots from the field.

“In the second half, we defended really well,” Smith said. “We got after them, pressed a few possessions and that got us off our heels a bit. Then, we just started scoring in a myriad of ways and that was great to see. We were able to hold them to 50 points on 64 possessions, which is excellent.”

While the Bears were having trouble scoring on their end of the court during that key second-half stretch, the Aggies heated up and went on a 31-10 run to put the game away.

“We’re really thankful that we got a chance to come up here and compete because when you play great teams and you play really well-coached teams, you learn a lot about yourself,” Northern Colorado head coach Steve Smiley said. “We went in at halftime with a one-point game, and just being able to see what they did to us, they exposed some of our flaws.”

A 3-pointer by Anthony with six seconds remaining in the first half sent the Aggies into the break with a 28-27 lead.

Rollie Worster also scored in double figures for Utah State with 12 points, to go along with four assists and two steals. The freshman guard had two assists and one steal during the first four minutes and nine seconds of the game, helping the Aggies jump out to a 13-4 lead.

The Aggies shot 41.9 percent from the field (26-of-62), including 37.5 percent from the 3-point line (3-of-8), and 61.5 percent from the free throw line (8-of-13). Utah State outrebounded Northern Colorado 40-30, including a 16-6 edge on the offensive end.

Northern Colorado shot just 39.6 percent from the field (19-of-48), including 26.1 percent of its long-distance shots (6-of-23). The Bears made just 55.7 percent of their free throw attempts (6-of-9).

Utah State returns to action on Monday, Dec. 21, when the Aggies open the Mountain West portion of their schedule against San José State. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. These same two teams will also meet on Wednesday night at 7 o’clock, also at the Spectrum.

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