LOGAN – Under head coach Ryan Odom, Utah State had been 0-15 in games where it scored 72 or fewer points. Whenever the scoring was limited, even when both teams struggled to score, the Aggies just haven’t been able to win in the last year-and-a-half.
Until this New Year’s Eve.
Utah State pulled off a 67-54 win over Fresno State to open conference play. It’s the lowest-scoring game of the year for USU, a lot of that having to do with the pace of the game. The Bulldogs slowed the game down to a crawl at times. The Aggies, used to having at least 72 offensive possessions in any given game, had just 63 possessions to get things done.
The Aggies weren’t as efficient as they usually are, committing 16 turnovers. And in a low-possession game like this one those lost chances were sorely missed at times.
“We had ball deflected that led to baskets for (Fresno State),” Odom said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to make sure that we’re cleaner with the basketball.”
But two stretches of this game gave Utah State the edge it needed to win, a pair of double-digit runs, one in the first half and another in the second. Both were incredibly opportune runs, coming at the perfect moments to give the Aggies momentum along with the obvious benefit of creating large leads.
“Our guys did a really nice job of answering every time Fresno would come back and take the lead,” Odom said.
With 8:57 left in the first half, Fresno State took a 22-20 lead. To that point neither team had had complete control of the game with both sides trading leads. Bulldogs guard Isaiah Hill gave his team a brief lead to continue that process but the Aggies had had enough of trading leads. Over the next 5:38, Utah State outscored Fresno State 13-0 to open up a 33-22 lead, carrying that to a 33-26 halftime lead.
Fresno State fought back from being down by 11 late in the first half and took the lead a few times in the second half, first a 42-40 lead, then 44-42 and then 46-44. That’s when the next kill shot by the Aggies was thrown. USU went on a 12-0 run spanning nearly five minutes. After that Fresno State didn’t get any closer than seven points.
According to Odom, the key in this game was two-fold, defense and offensive rebounds. The former of those two was instrumental in giving the Aggies room to run its transition offense. After Fresno State buckets, the Bulldogs ran a soft full-court press, slowing USU’s offense and limiting the time it had to execute its halfcourt offense. But after FSU misses the Aggies could get out and run.
“We play in transition. For us in transition our guys are pretty good,” Odom said. “They can get behind you. The court’s more open and we’re able to attack the gaps better. We put pressure on the defense quicker that way.”
In terms of that second key, the Aggies were very solid, outrebounding the Bulldogs 37-23 overall and grabbing nine offensive rebounds.
“Going into it, Bryce told us they weren’t a great defensive rebounding team so obviously put emphasis on that and just kept crashing. I knew I wasn’t getting a lot of shots so that’s my way of affecting the game is grabbing as many rebounds as I can.”
Just going by rebounds, Akin had a big impact on the game, reeling in a game-high 13 including three offensive rebounds. Reserve forward Zee Hamoda also played a big role in this game, tying Steven Ashworth for the team lead in points at 13. Hamoda kickstarted both of the big runs by making 3-pointers that gave his team the lead. He finished the game with a team-best +24 plus/minus rating (next-closest was Akin’s +15).
“Coming into the game I was focused,” Hamoda said. “Trying to affect the game for our team.”
This performance was especially timely given Hamoda did not have the greatest games when Utah State was playing in the Diamond Head Classic. Odom gave quite a long answer when asked about Hamoda bouncing back for this game.
“He only got six minutes against Washington State,” Odom said. “There’s a reason he got six minutes in that game. And in this game he went in there and performed extremely well. And so when that happens you’re going to get more. And what was the key for him? The key for Zee is defense. You see him make the shots and you see him do some of the offensive things that he does. But what he really provides for our team is that defensive guy who can get through screens, who’s long, who can contest shots, who can rebound and plays with enough physicality to guard multiple guys. You saw him switch on the center. You saw him guard the point guard. He guarded (Jemarl) Baker really well and contested and made him have some hard shots.”
In addition to the 13 points by Ashworth and Hamoda, Akin had 11 points with his 13 boardsfor his fourth double-double of the year. Trevin Dorius also put in an effective eight minutes of play, scoring seven points and grabbing three offensive rebounds and blocking a shot.
Utah State’s next two games will be on the road. Next time out will be at Air Force on Tuesday, Jan. 3 with that game tipping off at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and broadcast on CBS Sports Network.