RENO, Nev. — The Aggies overwhelmed the Wolf Pack with unselfish offense and dominant defense to collect their third conference victory of the season, 78 to 49.
“Great win for us against a tough Nevada team,” head coach Ryan Odom said.
Six different Aggies all scored double-digit points, including all five starters and guard Max Shulga.
“It’s a balanced stat sheet,” Odom said. “It wasn’t one guy that did it for us tonight. It was a collection of guys playing the game the right way in a hungry fashion.”
Forward Justin Bean and guard RJ Eytle-Rock led the Aggies with 12 points apiece. The game had some special significance for Bean who served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Reno. After five seasons as an Aggie, Bean finally collected his first win at Lawlor Events Center. He finished with five rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.
The Aggies moved the ball well, tallying up 22 assists. Guard Steven Ashworth had seven of them himself in his fifth straight start. He tied a career-high in assists and set one in rebounds with six. Ashworth was also tasked with guarding Nevada’s leading scorer, guard Grant Sherfield, and limited him to four points, almost 16 less than his season average.
“He’s been great for us. A lot of the things he does is the stuff you won’t even see on the stat sheet, to be honest. He’s been a great leader for us. He’s been loud, he’s been bringing the communication, bringing the energy,” Eytle-Rock said. “He’s just continuously talking, bringing the group together. He’s sharing the ball well and he’s shooting great right now.”
The Aggies’ success in finding open shots and decision-making led to 10 made 3-pointers including two from Eytle-Rock. He has stepped up his offense since missing a couple of games due to COVID-19. He credits his increase in points to Utah State’s ball movement.
“We’ve just been sharing the ball a lot more. So the shots have been coming more clean, more open. So I just feel like I’ve been able to take my time and get my shot off. As I said, we’ve been passing a lot better so when the pass is on target and I’m open, I feel like I can knock it down,” Eytle-Rock said.
Utah State’s defense led to offense after they forced turnover after turnover. The Aggies scored 20 points off of 15 Nevada turnovers. Utah State racked up four blocks, seven steals and outrebounded the Wolf Pack 41 to 31.
“I thought our defense kind of led the way, was the story of the night for us,” Odom said.
In the first half, unselfish play built a large Utah State lead. Every Aggie with minutes had at least four points at halftime with Eytle-Rock and Bairstow leading the pack with eight points each. Utah State’s defense forced nine turnovers in the first half, leading to 13 points. At halftime, the Aggies led 45 to 27.
“You don’t ever feel comfortable as a team or a coach in the first half. You can’t win the game in the first half,” Odom said.
There was little reason for concern considering how Utah State played after halftime. The Aggies were a runaway train in the second half. They extended their lead on a 12-2 run in the first five minutes and did not let up the rest of the way. Utah State led by as much as 34 in the last three minutes before subbing in reserves.
While the Aggies recorded an empathic win, Odom said there is always room for improvement, especially in a tough conference like the Mountain West.
“Certainly in the second half 12 turnovers too many,” Odom said. “We can certainly be cleaner. It wasn’t a perfect game. We have to continue to get better.”
The large leads did lead to celebrations and opportunities for highlight plays like back-to-back two-handed jams by Bean. Another dunk from Shulga led to a technical foul as the referees believed he hung on the rim too long. The Aggies were also caught doing celebrations after clean assists.
“We’re just trying to have fun. Coach wrote on the board during this game, ‘just have fun.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. Enjoy the moment,” Eytle-Rock said. “This game is hard. This conference is hard. So when we win, when we make good plays, it’s important to bring energy and celebrate those things because sometimes they don’t happen.”
The lead also allowed some Aggies further down the bench to get more playing time. This included Odom’s son, Connor Odom, who made his Utah State debut against the Wolf Pack.
“That was pretty cool. You never expect that in Mountain West play to be able to get him in there,” Ryan Odom said. “I know his grandparents if they stayed up late enough, and his mother and brother and other grandmother, they’ll be thrilled. And I thought he did fine.”
With the win, Utah State improves to 12-9 on the season and 3-5 in conference play. The Aggies continue a busy stretch on Tuesday as they host Air Force at home.