RJ Eytle-Rock. Photo by Tina Lerohl
LOGAN, Utah — On a four-game losing streak, Utah State (15-13, 6-9) hosts New Mexico (11-16, 3-10) in the Aggies’ third to last game of the regular season. Utah State will try to turn a new leaf in their three games to prepare for the conference tournament.
For the first time in 14 games, the Aggies will have their original starting lineup this season available. Guard Brock Miller is expected to play after missing nearly two months with a back injury. He likely will not start and will see limited action.
“How much he’s going to play? I don’t know,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “He’s worked out a ton. He hasn’t really played a ton up and down. I may give him a go at it, just kind of see how it goes.”
Odom mentioned that Miller’s role for the team is going to be different the rest of the season.
“He understands. It’s not going to be the same as it was earlier in the season,” Odom said. “He has a lot going on in his life right now. His baby’s due on March 4. First child and he’s trying to kind of finish this thing out with his teammates.”
Before his injury, Miller averaged 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 13 games. Even if Miller does not return to form, he provides intangible assets to the team.
“One thing I do know is him in a uniform, his energy level, his leadership, even if he’s not playing the normal minutes that he’d typically play. He can be an impactful player for us. We need his energy for sure and the guys respect his leadership in-game,” Odom said.
The Aggies are returning home after a tough two-game road trip where they went winless. Utah State also lost their last home game to Nevada. This time around, the Aggies are focused on getting the job done on their home court.
“Our guys are eager to play well,” Odom said. “We have to take care of business here in the Spectrum. We haven’t done that as well as we’ve liked this particular season.”
On the other hand, New Mexico will look to avenge their loss to Utah State earlier this season. The Aggies were victorious when these two squads faced off in New Mexico on Jan. 8. Utah State trailed by 15 points at halftime, but battled back and forced the game into overtime. Four free-throw makes down the stretch gave the Aggies their first conference win of the season.
New Mexico’s loss to Utah State was the second contest of a seven-game losing streak that lasted most of January. After that stretch, the Lobos have gone 4-3, with a marquee win over Wyoming on Feb. 15. However, last time out, New Mexico fell to last-place San Jose State by 16.
Despite that most recent result, Odom is not taking the Lobos lightly.
“We know they’re going to be ready to play against us,” Odom said. “They’ve been playing really good basketball down the stretch… Obviously, beating league-leading Wyoming at home in a really hard-fought game.”
New Mexico is led by guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashbrun Jr. Against Utah State earlier this season, Odom said “they both had excellent games.” The numbers backed this up as they combined for 37 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists.
Mashburn played arguably his best game of the year against the Aggies. He had season-highs in points, 29, and assists, eight, against the Aggies. He did it while hitting four 3-pointers and nine free throws. On the season he averages 17.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
“Mashburn has a wicked pull-up game,” Odom said. “Can shoot from behind the arc. Can get all the way to the rim. He’s just a really, really good one-on-one player so we have to be ready for him.”
In contrast, House had a slower night than usual but has picked up the pace recently. He dropped 42 points at Air Force and recorded a solid 32 against Wyoming in the last five games.
“House is really tough in transition,” Odom said. “He gets to the basket. He creates baskets for others and himself. He’s an excellent steal guy. He anticipates plays extremely well and can create offense with his defense.”
One player that turned heads in the previous matchup was guard Javonte Johnson. He scored a season-high 23 points off of seven made 3-pointers. He made the most threes on a team that recorded their season-high in made threes with 17. New Mexico’s explosive offense is part of the reason Odom is focusing on defense in this matchup.
“What we can’t do is trade baskets with them,” Odom said. “We have to really hone in on our defense early in the game, force hard shots and then try to push the ball when we can.”
For the Aggies, this game is not necessarily do or die. Most national pundits predict that Utah State will not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It seems like the Aggies’ last shot is to win the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Knowing the challenge that will be, Odom still has a lot of confidence in his team.
“This team has not given up on its dreams and goals of trying to compete for an NCAA tournament. You can sense the mood in here. It doesn’t sound like a team that’s lost four games in a row, nor did it when we broke through and beat San Diego State. It’s not like we haven’t been here before,” Odom said. “We all feel confident in ourselves and our abilities.”
Odom wants to take these last games as a chance to prep for post-season play.
“We have to figure out a way to best finish games. Each game took a life of its own. Obviously, we had our chances at Wyoming,” Odom said. “I think we just have to do a better job at that later in games. We can’t expect to have a 10-point lead every single game and be able to ride it out with our free throw shooting and ball handling. We have to be able to win some of these close games. It takes shot-making, it takes poise, it takes defensive discipline and stinginess, it takes some luck, at times, to win these. That’s a reality of it.”
Odom compared this year’s Aggie team with the squad he lead at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in his first year of coaching. After a mid-to-late season slump, the Retrievers were able to turn things around in their last few games.
“We end up finishing the season on a really high note, playing a post-season tournament, getting to 21 wins and then that led us to the next season where we had, obviously, a historic year,” Odom said.
The action at the Spectrum starts at 8 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on FS1.