In the second half of Utah State’s 83-60 victory over Marshall in the first round of the Cayman Islands Classic, the Aggies faced multiple pushes by the Thundering Herd as the Sun Belt team tried to overcome the 15-point lead USU built early in the second half.
But Utah State weathered them all and delivered a knock-out blow in the closing minutes of the game to earn its largest margin of victory against a Division I team this season.
The first half of the game was pretty much all Aggies, with a double-digit, or near double-digit lead being present for much of the 20 minutes. Utah State shot 51.9 percent from the field and Marshall shot just 28.1 percent. That defensive efficiency was a welcome sight to Danny Sprinkle after an underwhelming performance by his team on that end against Southern Utah.
“Our guys did a much better job guarding the dribble than we did last Tuesday against Southern Utah,” Sprinkle said. “We had a film session that wasn’t pretty and I thought our guys really responded today and really defended well.”
Great Osobor continued his dominance in the paint this season, posting a first-half double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He would finish the game with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
At halftime, the Aggies held a 39-26 lead and bumped that advantage up to 15 points, 43-28 less than a minute into the second half. But then Marshall made its biggest push of the afternoon to make it a much closer game.
Over the next five minutes, Marshall went on a 13-2 run, cutting Utah State’s lead to just four points, 45-41, the Aggies committing six turnovers in that same span to help facilitate that run for the Thundering Herd.
Despite that run, and despite further pushes by Marshall to bring Utah State’s lead down to two possessions, at no point did USU’s lead drop below that. On no less than three occasions, Marshall made the push to bring the game to a two-possession game, but each time USU responded with a quick burst.
“We know that it’s gonna be hard, playing on the road. We try to keep our energy high. Stay locked in. We can let every little push or negative effect us,” USU guard Ian Martinez said. “We just got to keep moving on to the next play. That’s kind of the mentality that we try to build here on the team. Just kind of next play and try to limit the mistakes as much as possible.”
The biggest response from the Aggies started with 10:23 left in the game. Marshal had once again cut the lead to four points, 52-48, but instead of a smaller 4-0 or 5-0 push by Utah State, it went big, throwing a haymaker to blow the game wide open. Over the final ten-and-a-half minutes, USU outscored Marshall 31-12, blasting the Thundering Herd defense and virtually shutting down their offense.
The Aggies ended up with a very balanced offense, led by Osobor’s 18 and Martinez’s 15 but greatly helped by the 11 points from each of Mason Falslev, Darius Brown and Josh Uduje. Utah State actually started the game by having seven different players make its first seven field goals of the game. Sprinkle said that balance is something the team will need moving forward.
“We’re gonna need that because you know we know teams are gonna they’ll start trapping Darius, and we’ll be ready when they do. Great’s got double teamed in every Division I game we’ve played this year, they double team and he’s still getting double-doubles,” Sprinkle said. “But then on nights like tonight you know we’re all sudden you’re getting Mason and Josh and Max and Ian and those guys in double figures you know it just it makes it really hard (for the opponent).”
With this victory, Utah State moves into the winner’s side of the bracket for the Cayman Islands Classic. The Aggies will face the winner of Akron (3-0) and Florida International (1-3), those two teams having tipped off shortly after the conclusion of USU’s win over Marshall.