LOGAN – Through the first 10 minutes of Utah State’s 80-65 win over East Tennessee State, the Aggies looked to be as out-of-sorts on offense as they had been against San Francisco — a game where USU ended up with its worst offensive output by far, and a season-low 54 points.
The Aggies somehow won that game against San Francisco anyway, but that 54-53 game was expected to be close. USU walked onto the court at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Friday as 17.5-point favorites over the visiting Bucs. Yet with 9:58 left to play in the opening half, Utah State found itself trailing ETSU 17-14. As a team, the Aggies had shot 3 of 13 from the field including six straight misses at that moment in time.
A saving grace for Utah State, and the reason such a cold-shooting night hadn’t resulted in a larger deficit, was the Buccaneers own shooting woes, having gone a mediocre 6 of 14 from the field to that point themselves. But there were dangerous signs as ETSU forward Jaden Seymour was providing a reliable scoring punch, having accounted for 13 of the Bucs points to that moment in the game (and would finish with 30 on the night).
Notably absent from the scoring early, and for most of the game, was Bucs guard Ebby Asamoah. He’d averaged 17 points per game entering the night, but wound up with just six on 1 for 9 shooting. USU senior guard Darius Brown had a big say in that poor shooting night.
“Darius, he does what he does. He did a tremendous job on (Asamoah),” Sprinkle said. “He’s one of the best shooters we’ve played all year and he was 0 for 6 tonight from three. And that was a huge key to the game.”
Getting stops on the entire team would prove to be a spark for the offense. After that 9:58 mark of the first half and its 23 percent shooting for the Aggies, Utah State began to get things going. In the final 10 minutes of the half, USU made 8 of 15 field goals. Of little coincidence was the fact that the Aggies began that solid shooting run by forcing nine straight missed field goals from the Bucs.
“Once we started getting some stops and we got our energy going defensively, it sparked our offense,” Sprinkle said.
Brown, an engine of the defense, also proved to be a major spark of offense late in the half. He scored the last nine points for the Aggies prior to the break, part of his team-leading 19 points on the night (he also led the team yet again in assists, with eight).
To start the second half, Utah State turned up the pressure on East Tennessee State. The Bucs had tried to limit the Aggies inside the paint, but it wouldn’t be so easy in the second half. The Aggies pushed to get the gall to Great Osobor in the post and got some early points to start the half, two on a dunk and two more at the free throw line.
Free throws, and the fouls that lead to them, proved to be a consistent source of offense, though that didn’t apply for Utah State. The officials called 51 fouls throughout the game, leading to 71 total free throws (36 for USU, 35 for ETSU). In fact, the Aggies reached the bonus with 15:30 left in the second half with the first player to foul out of the game — ETSU’s Braden Ilic — heading to the bench with 16:13 left on the clock.
“When you have two aggressive teams getting after it, there’s a lot of contact there,” Sprinkle said. “That’s when you’ve got to knock down free throws.”
Such consistent whistles hurt the Aggies in their attempts to claw together larger scoring runs, but with ETSU only shooting 33 percent in the second half, the lead eventually climbed into the double digits and as high as 17 points late in the game.
Along with Brown’s 19, the Aggies had three other players in double figures. Great Osobor scored 15 with 10 rebounds, Ian Martinez added 13 with Josh Uduje scoring 12. Mason Falslev nearly had a double-double himself, grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds but scoring just nine points.
The win extends the Aggies’ stellar start to 12-1 but they won’t take to the court again until Jan. 2 for a road game at Air Force and the start of Mountain West play.
“It’s a great feeling, but as coach said now we’re 0-0,” Brown said. “The Mountain West Conference is a whole season. And then there’s the conference tournament which is another season. We’re onto the next season. We’re gonna enjoy Christmas and then we’re gonna get right back to it.”