Utah State men’s basketball team. Photo by Robert K. Scott
LOGAN – It was a night of new career-highs in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum as both Max Shulga and Trevin Dorius set new personal bests in points in Utah State’s 80-65 win over Air Force Tuesday evening.
Shulga shattered his previous career-best mark of 20 points (set earlier this year at San Diego) by putting up 29. He made four 3-pointers and went 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
“Watching him do that today was not a shock by any means,” Dorius said. “It’s something that we’ve always known Max is capable of. And I hope that every team in the conference knows that that’s what Max is capable of.”
Utah State head coach Ryan Odom said Shulga has been working a lot on his shot recently.
“He’s been working on it after practice, days off even though we haven’t had many days off,” Odom said. “He’s been able to get in there and refocus himself on his jump shot because he’s a really good shooter, and we know that. He’s had a little bit of a stretch where he’s missed some that, obviously, we all want him to make. He’s remained confident and his teammates have remained confident in him. So it was great to see him play the way that he did today.”
Dorius’ previous career-high in points, 12, is a mark he’s done three times at Utah State (most recently against Washington State earlier this year). He put up 17 points on a career-high 11 field goal attempts and also reeled in seven rebounds in just over 16 minutes on the court.
“As much fun as it is, I wouldn’t be able to do it without people like Steven (Ashworth) and Max and Taylor (Funk) spreading out the court on the perimeter,” Dorius said. “I’m getting a lot more looks because over the season they’ve shown if they’re not guarding them outside or locking out on them we’re just going to make 21 threes.”
Utah State led wire-to-wire, taking its initial lead at the 19:11 mark on a Dorius and-one which gave the senior center three of the seven points he scored inside the first four minutes of the game. Thanks in part to Dorius’ efforts, the Aggies scored on their first seven possessions, taking a 16-7 lead in the early going.
Air Force did respond with a 9-2 run but then Utah State went on a 15-4 run to take its largest lead of the first half, 13 points, at 33-20.
After that point the Aggies never really relinquished control. A couple of runs by the Falcons chipped the lead down a bit but each time Utah State rallied to either get it back to, or keep the lead in the double-digit range.
A big key for Utah State was not turning the ball over and it certainly accomplished that goal as the Aggies only had eight giveaways the entire evening – the second-lowest mark of the season. It’s a factor in how USU scored 80 points in a game that featured fewer possessions than normal for the Aggies.
“(Air Force is) really good at knocking the ball loose from you,” Odom said. “They’ve always been good at that. It’s just something we have to stay focused on and stay attentive to and really emphasize every day in practice. Part of it is being A, organized and then B, being good with the ball.”
Defensively, Utah State held down Air Force, keeping its top scorer Jake Heidbreder to just 10 points until he hit two 3-pointers in the final few minutes with the game already decided to get to his total of 16. The Falcons shot just 37.9 percent in the second half after making 50 percent of their buckets in the first half.
“To hold them to 37 percent in the second half was a big deal for us,” Odom said. “Contesting shots at the rim and really tried to force some hard ones without fouling. And I thought our guys did a solid job.”
Utah State is now back on the winning track and eclipsed the 20-win mark for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Aggies next game will be against Nevada, a night in which the team will also retire USU Hall of Famer Jaycee Carroll’s jersey. That game will tip off on Saturday at 6 p.m.