Steven Ashworth. Photo by Lorene Hale
LOGAN – With 2:59 left in the game Oral Roberts tied the game 77-77, drawing even with Utah State for the first time since late in the first half. The Golden Eagles had weathered an Aggies onslaught of blazing-hot shooting in the first half to make it a close contest.
But for all that fight Oral Roberts put up, it couldn’t withstand Steven “Spalshworth” Ashworth.
Coming out of a time out called by the Aggies when the game was tied, Ashworth scored 10 straight points in a span of 79 seconds – hitting a triple with 2:34, a technical free throw at 2:27, another three at 1:58 and yet another three at 1:15.
“It just kind of happened,” Ashworth said. “It naturally just happened. And that’s the beauty of this team is that we can look to go at any single guy at any moment and we know that that individual is going to be ready to knock down the shot and tonight luckily it was myself.”
Technically, after that last triple Ashworth had scored the last 13 points for the Aggies, but there was a 3:34 span between a 3-pointer and his 10-point burst. The junior point guard set a new career-high in points for the second time this season, scoring 30 points. He went an absurd 8-for-9 from three. The eight threes made was also a career-best for Ashworth.
“He’s a killer. I ain’t never seen nobody shoot like that in my life,” Max Shulga said of his teammate. “It’s a show every time he’s out there. He’s like Steph Curry for real.”
Ashworth had a more simple and humble summary of his night.
“I think I shot the ball pretty well tonight.”
Ashworth’s shooting was part of a spectacular team effort from three where the Aggies went 19-of-31 from deep, the second-most threes in a game since USU made 20 vs New Mexico State in 2006. When asked about how a team can be that hot from three, Shulga said “I have no idea,” but did also take a stab at trying to explain that level of shooting.
“You just shoot the shots they give you. Shoot the open shots,” Shulga said. “You just stay in the gym, get shots up and then shoot your shot in the game. Open man is the best man.”
The Aggies moved the ball in passing clinic to facilitate that hot shooting. As a team, USU had 25 assists on 29 made field goals. Rylan Jones had eight to lead the team in that category with Max Shulga adding seven, nearly reaching a triple-double as the Ukrainian also had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
All of that passing was necessary to a degree against a unique Oral Roberts team. The Golden Eagles had 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover roaming the paint, making shots inside the arc hard to make. Breaking down the defense and then slinging it around the arc for open threes made scoring 90 points (yet again) possible.
“(Vanover)’s definitely a presence down low,” Ashworth said. “We knew that going into the game we were going to be able to get into the lane but that those floaters or finishing at the basket weren’t going to be quite the shots that we wanted to get. And so we talked a lot about it, leading up to it and even at halftime, make sure that we keep looking for those kick-outs and guys found the windows and hit shots when we needed it.”
The performances certainly wasn’t without its flaws. USU turned the ball over a season-high 19 times. In the three-minute stretch prior to Ashworth’s blast off, the Aggies had three turnovers that allowed Oral Roberts to go on an 8-0 run, turning a 77-69 game into a tied 77-77 contest.
Defensively, the Aggies struggled at times against the almost equally hot-shooting Golden Eagles. The visitors went a pretty solid 14-for-31 from three, themselves. Vanover provided a particular challenge, being a 7-foot-5 giant who also shoots threes. Vanover hit three straight threes at one point, helping Oral Roberts stay in the game. He also deterred shots inside, getting four blocks and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Utah State is now 5-0 on the year, quickly approaching the mark set by the 2019 Aggies who began their year 7-0. USU is also on an insane run of fantastic offense with three straight games scoring 90-plus points (albeit one of those was an overtime game). It’s the first time the Aggies have had three straight 90-point games since the first three games of the 2018 season (101 vs Montana State, 100 vs Hartford, 94 vs Mississippi Vallet State).
Perhaps just as importantly as the offense, it’s the second straight game where the game was tied late and the Aggies pulled off a win. USU had to survive on the road to beat San Diego in overtime 91-89 and on Tuesday was able to pull away late. Last year’s USU squad lost many close contests but this year the team is 2-0 in games that were tied at some point below three minutes left in regulation.
“I credit a lot of it to our offseason,” Ashworth said. “We put in the work. We were together all the time. And we knew the pain of those moments. A lot of us remember exactly how it felt like. To be back in that situation I think it’s just a maturity thing. We know what it’s like to be in those moments and we know where to go when we need it.”
Aside from Ashworth’s 30, the Aggies had four other players score in double figures. Taylor Funk went for 18 with five rebounds, four assists. Dan Akin scored 12 points off the bench with nine rebounds. And Shulga and Jones each had 10 points.
Utah State will be off for eight days with Thanksgiving coming up. The next game will be another home contests against in-state foe Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) on Dec. 1. The Trailblazers are 2-3 this season, having played several tough opponents including Washington and No. 14 Arizona. The game against Utah Tech will tip off at 7 p.m.