LARAMIE, WY – In the first few minutes of the game, Utah State looked as though its offense would do most of the heavy lifting in an assumed win. The Aggies made 10 of their first 15 shots including six of their first seven.
After that hot start though, USU went cold, going 11-of-36 from the field the rest of the way after the 10-for-15 start. That kind of cold spell has sunk the Aggies in the past, but defense saved the day as it held Wyoming to 31.5 percent shooting on the night and just 55 points allowed for a 65-55 win.
Utah State head coach Ryan Odom was not made available to members of the media following the game (nor were any players), but did speak about the win on a radio broadcast shortly before leaving the arena.
“It’s really hard to win on the road. It’s really hard to win on the road. And this is a good basketball team that we just played,” Odom said on the broadcast. “Any time you have (Hunter Maldonado) on your team you got a chance.”
The great start to the game offensively helped give Utah State a 12-point lead, 27-15 (and also 29-17) midway through the first half. USU’s scoring pace at the time would have put the team around 100 points had it held.
Obviously it didn’t hold.
The Aggies went through a minor cold spell after going up 12, but still held an 11-point lead, 32-21, with 5:10 left to go in the first half. And that’s when the real cold spell began. Over the last five minutes of the first half, Utah State didn’t make a single field goal, missing all five of its attempts. The only points came on a single made free throw by Max Shulga with 1:19 on the clock. Wyoming took full advantage of this Aggie drought to go on a 12-1 run, tying the game at 33-33 going into halftime. Cowboys junior guard Xavier DuSell played a big role in that when he hit back-to-back threes late in the half, part of his 16-point first half performance that included four 3-pointers made.
“DuSell came out of the gates pretty hot, played extremely well in that first half and got them back, tied at halftime,” Odom said.
Utah State never recovered its shooting touch from earlier in the game and for a moment it appeared it could bit the team right in the behind. Early in the second half, Wyoming took its first lead of the game, 38-37 and got that lead up to 40-37. But Steven Ashworth made eight straight points by himself, hitting a 3-pointer and then five straight free throws to put Utah State back up 45-40. Offense was still hard to come by after that, but it didn’t matter as Wyoming couldn’t buy a bucket. The Cowboys shot 21.4 percent in the second half. It allowed the Aggies to gradually pull further and further ahead until they closed out a double-digit win.
“Our guys had to respond at half. I thought our guys did a nice job throughout that second half,” Odom said. “To hold them to 55 in their gym is not an easy thing to do and certainly we’re proud of the defense that the guys played.”
Ashworth finished the game as the team leader in both points (19) and rebounds (seven). He also tied for the team lead in assists (three) alongside Max Shulga and Sean Bairstow. Shulga and Dan Akin were the only other Aggies in double figures, each tallying 11 points.
After a quick turnaround that saw Utah State play two games in four days, the Aggies won’t take the court again until a road trip to Las Vegas and a matchup with UNLV on March 1. That will kick off the final week of the regular season in which USU will play the Rebels and then Boise State on Senior Night.