Utah State basketball. Photo by Triston Hartfiel.
In the title game of the Cayman Islands Classic, Utah State was playing its third game in three nights against a Stephen F. Austin team playing a deep rotation and would theoretically be more well-rested, despite also facing the three-games-in-three-days gauntlet.
That’s not what it looked like on the court at John Gray Gymnasium as the Aggies smoked the Lumberjacks 79-49, putting on a show in the second half. USU outscored SFA 47-23 in the second half after the first half was a much closer 32-26.
“Our guys really did a great job being in the aggressors,” USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “We talked about that before the game and you have to throw the first punch. And then you can’t stop. Not against a team like Stephen F. Austin. And for our guys to play the 40 minutes that they did on the (third game in three nights) was really impressive.”
With the Aggies’ stars, Darius Brown and Great Osobor, having played so many minutes the previous nights (69 for Osobor and 71 for Brown), USU needed many of its other rotation players to step up.
And Utah State got just that from those players.
Mason Falslev went off for 19 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Fellow guard Ian Martinez had 13 points, including a stretch of seven points by himself in the second half that pushed the Aggies’ lead to insurmountable heights. But perhaps the most underrated star of the night was Karson Templin. The true freshman from Texas hadn’t played in the previous two games of the showcase, but played 15 minutes of high-level basketball. Templin had eight points, four rebounds and a block.
“Karson Templin was really big-time for us today,” Osobor said. “He was awesome and he brought energy.”
“Mason and Karson, their energy tonight was out of this world,” Sprinkle said, “and it carried us because when they’re making plays like they do, those are momentum plays. Sometimes it’s not just two points, it’s two points and all of a sudden they just completely changed the energy and the momentum of the game. I’m really proud of those guys.”
Though scoring was plentiful and wide-spread, the Aggies’ defense once again took center stage. Stephen F. Austin entered the game with the sixth-highest field goal percentage in Division I, and shot just 33.9 percent as a team, 17.6 percent on 3-pointers.
That defense was a theme throughout the tournament. USU held Marshall, Akron and Stephen F. Austin to a combined 35.5 percent shooting (none higher than 38 percent). Aside from their games against the Aggies, those teams have shot a collective 49.8 percent (a team with that season percentage would rank roughly 45th right now in field goal percentage).
This game in particular, Osobor said he needed to step up his defense, and he ended up with three blocks.
“Especially in a day where I’m not dropping 25 or 30 (points), I feel like I have to set the tone at least with my defense,” Osobor said. “And I think I did a pretty good job of shutting down the paint.”
Playing high-level defense was the one thing Sprinkle said he wanted to see. He didn’t hide his displeasure for the team’s defense against Southern Utah (a game where USU gave up 84 points) but he’s been pleased with what the team accomplished in the Cayman Islands.
“Our guys knew that for us to have a chance to win this tournament, we had to get a lot better defensively,” Sprinkle said. We were pretty sloppy with some individual and team defense against Southern Utah. Proud of our guys for correcting it. Because some teams, once the game starts they go back to those old habits and our guys did a great job of applying the rules and the principles that we had talked about and that carried them all three games.”
In addition to Mason’s 19 points and Ian’s 13, the Aggies got double-figure contributions from the usual suspects, Osobor (14) and Brown (11). Brown also added 10 assists, his first double-double as an Aggie and fourth of his career.
Two Aggies were named to the Cayman Islands Classic All-Tournament team. Falslev, who averaged 13.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the three games was one, with Osobor named the tournament MVP. Osobor averaged 18.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks during the tournament.