Darius Brown II. Photo by Triston Hartfiel
LOGAN — Great Osobor and Darius Brown both had stellar nights for Utah State, leading the Aggies to a 93-84 shootout win over an upstart Southern Utah team.
Needing a response to a slow finish in the overtime loss at Bradley, Utah State came out a little too sluggish against Southern Utah. The Aggies looked to Great Osobor early to take advantage of a major size advantage in the starting lineups — SUU started four guards while USU had the 6-foot-8 Osobor and 7-foot Isaac Johnson.
Each of the first three possessions ended with the ball in Osobor’s hands and the result of those trips down the floor was a pair of missed layups and a lost ball turnover. Southern Utah meanwhile scored points on four of its first five possessions, going up 11-2.
“I take responsibility for the way we started,” Osobor said. “I’ve missed a bunch of bunnies I don’t normally miss. I take accountability for that. It wasn’t a great start and it trickled down.”
USU head coach Danny Sprinkle had certainly seen enough at that point, calling a timeout and trying to light a fire under his players.
“I tried to jump them a little bit, to spark them. We had to play harder,” Sprinkle said. “Southern Utah, in that first 15 minutes, played harder than us. Which is unacceptable in this building.”
Osobor took blame on himself for that rough start and Sprinkle didn’t disagree, specifically saying after the game that he needed to “light Great up a little bit” during the timeout.
“For a second game he didn’t start out very well,” Sprinkle said. “He missed a couple layups and then he got blown by defensively. You can’t take plays off at this level. If you’re tired, call yourself out.”
And, in Sprinkle’s words, the junior forward “got the message” as he wound up powering the Aggies’ eventual rally. Osobor ended the night with 31 points. In the first half, he feasted on free throws, hitting 9 of 12 in the first half alone which led him to have 15 points at the break.
Utah State didn’t get back in the game all at once. Southern Utah kept the pressure on the Aggies for much of the first half. Multiple T-Birds guards had great nights. Prophet Johnson made his first six shots en route to an eventual team-leading 24 points on 9 of 11 shooting. Dominique Ford and Zion Young also chipped in with 19 and 14 points, respectively.
Southern Utah ended up shooting 52.8 percent in the first half and were stunning the Aggies with their speed and shot-making.
“They were playing at a totally different speed than we were the first 15 minutes of the game. They had us on our heels,” Sprinkle said. “Their guards did a great job driving us. They rejected a ton of ball screens. And our guys, we didn’t adjust to it until, really until the second half.”
Utah State slowly got its offense rolling into shape following a 2 for 7 start from the field, building its shooting percentage back into normal ranges, but couldn’t shave down the Thunderbirds’ lead to less than five points.
Until the final few minutes of the half, that is.
With 2:45 left in the first half, the Aggies kicked off what would be tied for their longest run of the evening, a 9-0 burst that began with an Osobor layup but Darius Brown would put his stamp on the run with several great plays in a row.
First, Brown first battled past some full-court pressure, beating his man in the backcourt and then drilling an open pull-up 3-pointer. After a defensive stop, Brown pushed the ball in transition and then cast his defender aside with a behind-the-back dribble and finished the layup. And finally he poked the ball free on defense, leading to a fastbreak dunk from Josh Uduje.
The 7,000-strong crowd reached its loudest point of the night with that Uduje dunk, for it was not only a great play, and the capstone on a 9-0 run, but it gave Utah State its first lead of the night at 44-42. Sprinkle said the energy from the crowd “really sparked our guys” in that moment.
“It was awesome being on the that end of it. I’ve been on the other end of it and it’s not fun when the place is rocking,” Sprinkle said. “It gives us so much energy when the crowd’s like that.”
Southern Utah would briefly silence the crowd with a lead-taking 3-pointer, but a pair of Osobor free throws in the final 30 seconds gave Utah State a 46-45 halftime lead.
Given how poorly the Aggies started, a lead at the break was a welcome bonus.
The Aggies rode that late-half momentum into a run in the early second half. They went on a 9-0 run to start the second half, creating a 20-3 overall run spanning roughly six minutes split between the end of the first and start of the second. Sprinkle said his team talks often about playing well in what some call the “middle eight,” or the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half.
“A lot of games are won and lost in those minutes,” Sprinkle said. “When you get that momentum going into halftime and then you come out with that same energy. Some teams quit. Some teams buckle when you do that.”
One could argue the Aggies lived up to what Sprinkle said about winning the game in those “middle eight” minutes as the run allowed them to play in front, usually by double digits, for the entire second half. Though Southern Utah was not one of the teams Sprinkle said often buckle under the pressure USU put on them. The T-Birds made a valiant effort to get back in the game, coming within four points, 80-76, with just under five minutes to play, but an 8-2 run by USU kicked the lead back up and kept the Aggies safe the rest of the way.
The performances of Osobor and Brown were huge for the Aggies. Osobor finished with not only 31 points, but 10 rebounds, making him one of seven USU players since 2010 to have a 30-point, 10-rebound game (Justin Bean, Neemias Queta, Koby McEwen, Chris Smith, David Collette, Spencer Butterfield).
Brown likewise powered the Aggie offense, but he did his damage on the outside, hitting a career-high five 3-pointers to finish with 22 points while also dishing out eight assists.
Along with Osobor and Brown, the Aggies got double-digit scoring nights from Josh Uduje, who had 14, and Mason Falslev, who was just shy of a double-double himself with 11 points and nine rebounds.
In the end, the Aggies got what they wanted, a win, but Sprinkle made it clear he wasn’t exactly happy with his team’s defensive performance.
“My expectations are a lot higher than theirs are. And my expectations aren’t going nowhere,” Sprinkle said. “They’re either going to match my expectations or it’s not going to be pretty in practice. Because we have to do a lot better job guarding the basketball than we did tonight.”
Utah State will get a chance to get closer to meeting Sprinkle’s standards this weekend as the team will travel to the Cayman Islands for the Cayman Islands Classic for a three-game showcase. The first game will be against Marshall at 3 p.m. on Sunday with the next two opponents to be determined by other results in the tournament.