SAN JOSE – With four minutes left in the game, Utah State held a 58-57 lead over San Jose State. The Aggies weren’t playing perfect, but just good enough to grind out a win. But over those final four minutes, the Spartans would score points on all but one trip down the court. USU meanwhile scored just six points the rest of the way and made only one field goal (making zero shots in the final 3:04 of the game).
All that added up to a 69-64 loss to San Jose State and now Utah State is on its first losing streak of the season. Plus, what little hopes were left for a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament may have all but vanished.
“I don’t even know what to say, honestly,” Aggies senior wing Sean Bairstow said. “I just don’t think we played to what we know we can do. We didn’t finish the plays that we usually do. Just didn’t make the plays at the end of the game that we needed to.”
“We didn’t get enough rebounds, key rebounds that we needed at the right times,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “And then we didn’t make the shots that we needed to make. We had some open ones down the stretch that just didn’t go in.”
Poor offensive stretches plagued the Aggies for much of the game, few as drastic as the start of the game. The opening minutes could only be described as the stuff of nightmares for a coach. Of their first nine offensive possessions, five ended in turnovers, two finished with SJSU blocking USU’s shot attempt, another in a regular missed field goal and finally, just one good ending to a play – a pair of made free throws by Max Shulga.
“(San Jose State) got on us pretty quickly. We wanted to be the aggressor and we weren’t,” Odom said. “We did some things that were a little bit uncharacteristic at the beginning of the game.”
Utah State did well to rally from the 11-point hole that resulted from its offensive woes to start the game. Indeed its rally – which saw USU outscore SJSU 24-13 in a span of about 11 minutes – could be considered the lone bright spot of this game. The Aggies scored 26 points in the final 11 minutes of the first half (after only six in the first nine minutes of the game).
The first half ended on a slightly rough note, with Omari Moore sinking a running three effectively at the buzzer, but Utah State took a 32-31 lead into the halftime break.
In the first part of the second half USU slowly pulled slightly further ahead, garnering a five-point lead with 11:54 to play. But that’s where Moore started to go into overdrive. The senior guard scored 17 points in the final 11 minutes and change, fueling his game-high 27 points by the end. Moore simply couldn’t be stopped by the Aggies.
And when Moore, or any other Spartan, did miss a shot, the rebound was usually pulled in by a player wearing Spartan colors. SJSU reeled in 14 offensive rebounds, including two in the final two minutes that kept Utah State from getting stops that could have allowed the team to re-take or extend a lead.
Utah State largely kept pace with Moore’s scoring rampage, with Steven Ashworth and Max Shulga scoring most of the Aggies points down the stretch. But in those final minutes something kept USU from being able to execute, be it the team itself or something SJSU did.
Despite struggles in the last few minutes, Utah State did have multiple chances to tie the game late and potentially force overtime. After going down 67-64, Steven Ashworth and Taylor Funk both had 3-point attempts on the same trip down the court (Dan Akin grabbing a board to extend the possession) and after getting the one “stop” (Safe Tolbert missed two free throws after a take foul) USU had late in the game, Funk had his 3-point attempt blocked and then rebounded by SJSU with four seconds left.
“We had some open (shots) down the stretch that just didn’t go in,” Odom said. “This team has made some of those this year, a lot of those this year to help us win games. Unfortunately, tonight they just didn’t go in.”
Thanks to New Mexico also losing this weekend, Utah State will retain its sole possession of fourth place in the Mountain West. But it’s a much more somber placement now. Chances of catching Nevada or even Boise State for the second or third spots in the standings – and securing the better conference tournament seedings that come with it – are much more slim with just five games remaining on the regular season schedule.
Still, Odom preached a chin-up attitude, one pointed toward moving beyond these two consecutive losses and focusing on the team’s Tuesday matchup with Air Force.
“We’ve got to get on to the next one,” Odom said. “That’s two close games we’ve lost now in a row and it hurts. But we can’t let it deter the rest of our season. We’ve got to be ready to go on Tuesday.”