Akin paces Aggies to win at Fresno State, completing season sweep of Bulldogs – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State forward Dan Akin shoots a free throw during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Air Force at Air Force Academy, Colo., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. (Parker Seibold/The Gazette via AP)

FRESNO – With about three-and-a-half minutes left in Utah State’s eventual 70-53 win, graduate forward Dan Akin found himself unguarded at the top of the 3-point line. That’s not unusual for the forward/center to experience since he’d logged exactly one 3-point attempt in his 147 career appearances thus far. But the Aggies were up by 18 points with not much time left so he lined up a long-range attempt.

And proceeded to bank it in straight-on.

“I was obviously feeling good at the time,” Akin said. “We were up so I was like might as well get one up.”

“He’s never allowed to shoot again,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said jokingly, who later added that he was “happy to see that go in, that was really cool for him.”

Such was the night for Akin who recorded two season-high marks, one in points with 23 (just one off his career-high of 24 set with Cal-Baptist in 2021) and another with three blocks. He also added a team-high eight rebounds to round off a career night.

“Dan was fabulous today and he’s been that way recently,” Odom said. “He’s been playing great for us and we certainly need him to do that. He’s a tough guard out there in terms of his athleticism. He runs the court, he sprints the court. He rebounds the ball. He can score with his back to the basket.”

Akin wasn’t the only one to have a solid night as multiple other Aggies turned in good games. Steven Ashworth scored 14 to join Akin in double-figure scoring. Ashworth also had six rebounds and six assists. Sean Bairstow came close to a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.

Alongside those solid individual performances, Utah State put together one of its best statistical defensive performances of the season, holding Fresno State to 34.5 percent shooting, tied for the third-lowest percentage allowed by the Aggies this season. Odom said the team kept it “pretty simple with the gameplan on this one.”

I thought our guys did a great job,” Odom said. “They really did. They isolated us a couple times on some post-ups and our guards did a really good job of fighting in there.”

Despite some of the positives of this game already being present in the first half, the Aggies were only up one point, 29-28 with 50 seconds left in the first half. But a 5-0 run from Steven Ashworth (a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws) gave USU a six point halftime lead. Then, coming out of the break the Aggies went on a 9-3 run to up that lead to 12 points.

“Coming off the last game we knew we had to have better starts to a half,” Akins said. “That was a big emphasis for us the last couple days.”

Fresno State briefly threatened to get back into the game by cutting the lead back down to eight points but after the 11:19 mark of the second half the lead never dropped below double-digits and grew as high as 21 a couple of different times (the first being after Akin’s three). Odom said the Aggies played a “balanced game.”

“Felt like it was a great performance all around,” Odom said. “Certainly there were spots within the game where we did some things we’d like to have back. But all-in-all to come into this arena against this opponent and be able to defend the way that we did and also score, it’s hard to get 70 in this building.”

Even though 70 points is tied for the third lowest scoring total of the season for the Aggies, the 1.23 points per possession scored by them is well over its season average. The lower point total even with that efficiency came from the lack of possessions since Fresno State is a team that likes to make games slow to a crawl in terms of pace.

With the win, Utah State completed its first sweep of a Mountain West opponent. It also keeps the team undefeated in games after a loss (now 5-0 on the season). Four of those post-loss wins have been by nine points or more. This game will also provide some confidence to a team that was 1-3 in conference road games this year.

“Obviously, road games are big,” Akin said. “Winning on the road is a true test of how good a team is. And obviously after what happened in San Diego we knew we had to answer.”

The Aggies will have the chance to earn another undefeated record against a conference foe on Wednesday. New Mexico will travel to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for the lone matchup between the Lobos and Aggies this season. That game will tip off at 8:30.

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