LOGAN, Utah — Utah State (12-9, 3-5) will seek vengeance as they host Air Force (10-9, 3-5) in a rematch of the Aggies’ first conference loss this season.
“We have to be the hungrier team when that ball tips up (Tuesday) night at seven o’clock,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “We never want to operate from a ‘we’ve got this figured out’ perspective, because as soon as you do that, you get knocked right in the teeth.”
Utah State knows Air Force’s skills from their matchup earlier this season. The Falcons won the contest, 49 to 47, with guard Steven Ashworth missing a deep, desperation three as time expired.
“Air Force is a very good team. They play the game the right way. They’re very well-coached. They control the game with their offense and defense,” Odom said.
Guard A.J. Walker still leads the Falcons in scoring, with 15.8 points per game, which is right on par with the 16 points he recorded against Utah State earlier this season.
Air Force has two dynamic freshman guards in Ethan Taylor and Jake Heidbreder. Last time against the Aggies, Utah State shut Taylor down. He finished the game with zero points, missing five field goals and two free throws. Taylor averages 9.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
“Dynamite freshman in Taylor,” Odom said.
Heidbreder had the Aggies’ number in their last matchup. He recorded a career-high with 16 points on his way to collecting Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Week honors. Heidbreder averages 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
“Number three can really shoot the rock,” Odom said.
In their meeting earlier this season, Air Force held Utah State to a season-low 47 points. Part of the scoreline was due to poor 3-point shooting. The Aggies shot a season-low 5.3% from beyond the arc, making one three on 19 attempts.
“Offensively, we have to move the ball better. We have to make sure we’re getting inside of their defense, but also remaining shot-ready. Just because we went 1-19 the last time we played them, doesn’t mean we can’t shoot 3’s against them. We have to make sure we shoot the right 3’s for our team. I’m excited to be back in the Spectrum, I know the players are, for another tough game.”
The Falcons are renowned for their perimeter defense limiting conference opponents to just 24.5% accuracy from downtown. That average was pushed up by two solid performances from Boise State and Colorado State recently. Air Force gives less-efficient players space, which can cause shooters to hesitate.
“Their switching can cause problems,” Odom said. “It can kind of give you the deer in the headlights (look) a little bit, because they switch and they put two guys on the ball for a split second. And when you get inside the paint, they get out. They don’t run at the ball. They leave that one guy on his own a lot of times.”
Inside the paint, the Falcons force turnovers and block shots to limit opposing forwards and centers.
“They’re very good at minimizing the rim shots because they’ll go after the ball. They try to block it, they try to steal it. They’re not walling up and playing defense that way in and around the rim; they’re trying to steal it. And they’re good at it. Similar to the respect that we had for San Diego State and Nevada with their defense around the rim, we have to have that same respect for Air Force,” Odom said.
The game plan and adjusting to the Falcons’ defense led to Air Force’s victory earlier this season, according to Odom.
“We were very specific with what we were running in that particular game and we were just a little bit lethargic all around. Whether it was a lack of pressure on the ball for us defensively and their lack of pressure on the ball defensively,” Odom said.
As Aggie fans saw earlier in the season, Air Force thrives on forcing opponents deep into the shot clock and being patient offensively.
“They know how they want to play and how they have the best chance to win. And that’s to really force you deeper into the clock from an offensive perspective and confuse you with their zone and switching. And then also from an offensive perspective for them, they’re waiting for you to make a mistake,” Odom said. “They’re very comfortable at the end of the clock.”
One thing Odom wants to improve in the rematch is the Aggies’ success in offensive rebounding. At Air Force, the Aggies had seven offensive rebounds, but their poor shooting percentage – 32.7% – created more opportunities that they could not take advantage of.
“Rebounding the ball. That was an area that we fell short in the first outing, is offensive rebounding. We did not do a good job on the offensive glass. And there were plenty of misses for us to go try to get and we didn’t do it. So we have to make sure this game that we go after it,” Odom said.
Utah State is starting to look better on the injury front. Guard Rylan Jones will return to action against the Falcons. He cleared concussion protocol and practiced with the team this week. Jones is not expected to start the game.
“I’m gonna put him in there for sure in the first half and we’ll see how he does,” Odom said.
Guard Brock Miller appears to remain sidelined at this point. He has missed seven games with a back injury.
The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. MST and will be streamed on the Mountain West Network. The game also has a special theme – Spectrum Magic – celebrating the unique heritage and color scheme in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.