LOGAN – It’s been a different player every night for Utah State in terms of scoring. Taylor Funk took his turn as the leading scorer by pouring in a season-high 22 points to lead USU in its 96-74 blowout victory over Santa Clara on Monday evening at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Funk scored 19 of his points in the first half alone, leading Utah State to a blazing-hot finish to the first half. Though early in the first, the Aggies were in a different funk. During one stretch the Aggies missed eight straight field goals spanning 4:37. The only points during that stretch came on a handful of free throws. Thankfully, USU’s defense held firm so that when Steven Ashworth took the lid off the rim, the Aggies took a 16-15 lead.
The turnaround didn’t begin with Funk, but he eventually finished it. Rylan Jones hit back-to-back threes and Dan Akin earned three points the old fashioned way (on an assist from Jones) to turn a 17-16 deficit to a 25-19 lead. That stretch from Jones was a showcase of how much he can help the team beyond his passing and defense.
“They’re thinking of him as the facilitator and so when all of a sudden he’s making shots like that, those are daggers to the other team,” Odom said.
After that, Funk took the reigns. Over the final 7:33 of the half, he nailed three triples and threw down two dunks to score 13 points total in that span. Thanks to that breakout, the Aggies took a 50-36 lead into the halftime break. Funk had his 19 points but also six rebounds and four steals. Odom said Funk was “dynamite” in the game.
“He’s a veteran, he’s played a lot of games,” Odom said, “and scored a lot of points during his career. He scored 1,400 points in his career at (St. Joseph’s), that’s a lot of points. So he expects to play well regardless of who he’s playing.”
The Aggies had eight steals overall in the first half, feeding a frenzy of transition points in the opening half. USU had 20 fast break points in the first compared to just two for Santa Clara – an interesting reversal of trends as the Broncos ranked 19th in pace coming into the game while the Aggies ranked 180th.
“We put in the work in the offseason to get in the right shape and right frame of mind to be able to push the ball for all 40 minutes,” Dorius said.
Defensively, the Aggies were keyed in on guard Brandin Podziemski who scored 30 in his season debut and 34 in his second outing. In the first half he had 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting but in the second half the sophomore guard was 0-for-5 from the field with just two points. He finished with those 12 points and three turnovers.
“That kid can shoot, the kid can play,” Funk said. “Our guys did so well on him. We had a great defensive strategy against him. He got in the paint, made some tough floaters and those are the ones we’re gonna have to live with.”
In the second half the Aggies remained in control, ballooning the lead as high as 27 points. The only notable hiccup came mid-way through the half when Santa Clara went on a 10-2 run and took the lead down to 13. Odom called time out to rally the troops.
“There was a moment where we relaxed a little bit,” Funk said. “We’ve got to play every possession like it’s our last. A couple I would say, lazy decisions in the paint. I think our guys did a really well at getting where we needed to be and then just didn’t do what we’re supposed to. And then I think we just threw up a couple shots at the rim where there’s better shots to be had.”
The response by the Aggies out of that timeout was an immediate 8-0 run to bring the lead back above 20 where it remained for (almost) the rest of the game.
For a team that scored 96 points, the offense was spread out. Funk led the team with his 22, Ashworth added 18, Dan Akin had 13 and Trevin Dorius had 11. Emblematic of the team spreading the wealth was its 25 team assists – most since Dec. 21, 2021 against Portland State. Jones led the way with eight assists, Ashworth and Max Shulga each had four.
“When we find an advantage the guys are committed to making the next pass,” Odom said. “There’s not a selfish bone in any of our guy’s bodies. That’s something that we work on constantly in practice and we’re committed to as a program. We’re committed to playing the game in a very unselfish way.”
Utah State is now 3-0 for the first time since 2019. The team will take that record on the road when it faces San Diego who are also off to a solid start at 3-0, themselves. That game will be on Thursday and will tip off at 8 p.m.