Strong first half not enough to propel Aggies over Fresno State – Cache Valley Daily

Brandon Horvath. Photo by Tina Lerohl

FRESNO, Calif. – Utah State lost to Fresno State in a contest that felt like a tale of two halves, 61 to 54. A strong first-half performance did not last as the Bulldogs adapted to the Aggies’ defense and shut down Utah State’s offense. The Aggies’ losing streak continues as they drop their third straight game and collect their fourth loss in five games. 

“This team is still close, but we’re just not quite good enough right now,” Odom said. 

Utah State had five players score eight or more points, but it was clear the Aggies were missing a go-to guy in Fresno. Forward Justin Bean had an off night only totaling 10 points, and the absences of guards Brock Miller and RJ Eytle-Rock were felt in the scoreline. 

However, typical bench players stepped up to play for the Aggies. Guard Sean Bairstow, in his third start, led Utah State with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. Bairstow has filled in well for Miller for most of conference play. 

“We’ve inserted Sean and he’s done really well. Imagine if he wasn’t there. He’s really filled in quite nicely,” Odom said.

Center Trevin Dorius was incredibly effective in his limited time on the court. He recorded eight points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes of play. Dorius said that the Utah State woes came more on defense than offense in his mind. 

“They were tough. This is a perfect example of the better defensive team is going to win the game. They were able to make stops that we weren’t able to repeat on our end of the floor,” Dorius said. 

One guy that Utah State knew would be difficult to stop was forward Orlando Robinson. At first, they did a nice job of containing him, limiting him to 17% accuracy from the field. Robinson’s production picked up in the second half, but the Aggies limited him to just over half of his season average in points. However, he was able to pick up assists passing out to guards around the perimeter. 

“The story of the game was more about Fresno State’s ability to impose its will on the game through its defense and Robinson getting comfortable playing against our defense and making the right basketball plays,” Odom said. 

Another chapter of the story was Utah State’s struggle to hang on to the ball in the second half. The Aggies lost the ball nine times after halftime, including a five-minute burst that saw four turnovers and an even deadlier two-minute stretch that led to three turnovers. 

“Our turnovers in this particular game (were a factor)…  too many times we were dribbling into traffic and losing it and not stopping,” Odom said. “Just not reading those situations correctly. Normally, we’re pretty good at that.”

The Aggies’ contrast of play between the two halves can be illustrated in short summaries of both. 

In the first half, Utah State pounded the paint, racking up 24 points inside compared to the Bulldogs’ four. The high percentage looks combined with smothering defense allowed the Aggies to build a 16 point lead fueled by a 17-2 run over eight minutes. Unlike recent games, Utah State was patient to find shots from beyond the arc. They only took four attempts in the first half with Horvath sinking one. The halftime score was 31 to 21. 

“We came out playing our type of basketball. We were sharing the ball. We weren’t settling for the shots that the defense wanted us to settle for and the results kind of spoke for themselves,” Dorius said. 

The second half was a completely different story for the Aggies on offense. The Bulldogs tightened up on defense and forced rushed shots and bad passes. Utah State totaled nine turnovers in the second half. Fresno State slowly chipped into the Aggie lead and took over with a 3-pointer with 9:15 left, 41 to 40. The squads went back and forth until the Bulldogs were able to build a five-point lead with 3:26 left. Utah State got the deficit down to one, with 1:48 left in the game, but could not take advantage of a five-second call against the Bulldogs with 32 seconds remaining. Fresno State made crucial free throws down the stretch while the Aggies missed field goals to secure the victory. 

If injury woes continue to wreak havoc on Utah State, forward Brandon Horvath is a guy the Aggies hope will go on a hot streak soon. It seemed like he was going to have a break-out game after he finished the first half with nine points, but he could not keep his pace after the break. He only attempted one shot in the second half which was off target.

“Brandon got off to a great start… (he) was a big reason why we had a lead,” Odom said. 

The loss puts Utah State down to 10-8 on the season and 1-4 in conference play. The Aggies will not have much time to dwell on the defeat as they have a short turnaround to host Boise State on Thursday, Jan. 20 in the Spectrum. 

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