LOGAN, Utah – Like most of Utah State’s conference matchups, Thursday night’s game came down to one possession that did not go in the Aggies’ favor. By three points, Utah State lost at home to Boise State 62 to 59.
“Tough. That’s the word to describe tonight. We fought,” guard Steven Ashworth said. “Going down the stretch we knew we had winning plays to make and we came up short on a few.”
Tied at 59, the Aggies had the ball with 44 seconds left. They worked the ball around looking for a chance to take the lead. The Broncos closed down several promising options and with the shot clock winding down, forward Justin Bean put up a mid-range jumper. It rattled out and Boise State came down with a rebound.
The Broncos dribbled down the clock and guard Marcus Shaver, Jr. fired a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining. Going into the last minute of play, if any Boise State guard was to take a three, the Aggies would have wanted it to be Shaver. He had not made a shot on 10 attempts including four misses from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, Shaver’s shot sailed through the hoop putting Boise State up 62 to 59.
“I knew that when we missed our opportunity that he wasn’t going to be looking to pass. And that’s what their coaches would want. He’s been their leading scorer throughout conference,” Ashworth said. “I knew that I would have to guard him. I felt like I did a great job all night on him, but I even told him after the shot went in, ‘tough shot.’ And sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
“Steven’s (Ashworth) defense was fabulous tonight against Shaver. He ended up making the winning basket, but he couldn’t get one off before that and the ones that he got off weren’t great looks because Steven’s right there the entire time,” Ryan Odom, Utah State’s head coach, said.
With 1.7 seconds on the clock, the Aggies faced an inbounds situation that has become all too familiar to Utah State fans. They stood on the opposite side of the court with little to no time down by a possession. A scene straight out of at least three of their previous games this season.
Forward Brandon Horvath bounced down the baseline before inbounding the ball towards guard RJ Eytle-Rock. He got tangled up with a Bronco and slammed into the scorers’ table. The ball deflected towards the three-point line and found the hands of forward Justin Bean, but the buzzer sounded before he could get a shot off.
“RJ went after the ball there. I thought he got pushed out of bounds on that one, but that’s up to (the referees) to make that call,” Odom said.
It seemed like the Aggies’ first choice for the inbounds play was Eytle-Rock and that was for good reason. You would not have known the game was Eytle-Rock’s first appearance in over a week. Coming off of a battle with COVID-19, Eytle-Rock flew off the bench and immediately made an impact. He collected 14 points, was a perfect eight for eight from the charity stripe and dialed up an elite dime that set up guard Sean Bairstow for a strong two-points.
“That’s what I’m used to seeing as his coach from UMBC days,” Odom said. “We need him to do that.”
Bean also showed up for the Aggies in the losing effort. He continued to make a case for conference player of the year as he put up his league-leading 12th double-double. He finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. With 879 career rebounds, Bean moved into sixth-most rebounds passing Aggie-great Tai Wesley.
What won the game for the Broncos was their dominance in the paint. Boise State outrebounded the Aggies and doubled their points in the paint finishing with 40. The Broncos also scored 23 second-chance points coming off of 16 offensive rebounds, 10 of which came courtesy of forward Mladen Armus. He wreaked havoc at the block all night as he tallied 20 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks.
“He’s very physical, very smart with his body,” Ashworth said. “If we control that part of the game, I think the outcome is a little bit different. That’s something that we talked about after the game. We know that we can go back and do that better collectively because no matter what, defensive rebounding is absolutely a team thing.”
After the game, Odom wanted to focus on the improvement he has seen from his team throughout their rough start to conference play.
“We choose to focus on the growth that’s happening within our team. Look at Trevin Dorius the last three games, his impact within the game is way different than how he was playing earlier in the season right when he came off of injury,” Odom said.
Dorius had the tough task of guarding Armus during his minutes in the game. In 12 minutes, Dorius was plus-one, recording two blocks and four rebounds.
Boise State’s head coach, Leon Rice, was also complimentary of what he saw the Aggies do on the court tonight.
“This team (Utah State), they’ve been so competitive, but they’ve just lost a lot of heartbreakers. They’re a really good basketball team, great players, so well-coached. We were in a dogfight, and we knew that going in,” Rice said. “It’s hard to come down here and win.”
The loss extends Utah State’s losing streak to four, dropping their record to 10-9 and 1-4 in conference play. The Aggies’ next contest comes on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 8:30 p.m. as Utah State hosts San Diego State at the Spectrum.