USU survives in OT against Fresno State (again) in MW Tourney opener – Cache Valley Daily

LAS VEGAS — A lot of stories are enjoyable enough that you want to tell them twice. Utah State seemed to be under that impression as it had to fend off Fresno State in overtime for a second time this season.

Back on Feb. 27, the Aggies won by four points in overtime against Fresno State, needing a last-second long 3-pointer from Darius Brown just to force the extra period, and USU pulled away in that extra time.

Thursday’s Mountain West Tournament second round matchup between the Aggies and Bulldogs didn’t have the same last-minute heroics — especially not for USU — but the overtime story remained the same. Utah State outscored Fresno State 17-5 in the free basketball portion of the game to secure the 87-75 win and advance to the semifinal.

“We just knew we had to go take it in overtime. We were just prepared,” USU sophomore guard Javon Jackson said. “As soon as we seen it was going to OT, we thought, yeah, we’re finna take this and dominate.”

Utah State started both halves — and overtime — with stellar runs, opening up a 16-8 lead in the first half and a 51-42 lead early in the second half. However, both leads would be chiseled down by Fresno State runs powered mostly by huge cold spells from the Aggies.

After a 6 of 9 start to the game shooting-wise, Utah State missed nine of its next 10 shot attempts. Similarly in the second, after taking their nine-point lead with 14:05 left on the clock, the Aggies would close out regulation by making just five of their next 20 shots. Fresno State took advantage in both cases, taking a 36-35 halftime lead and pulling back from the 51-42 deficit to tie the game 62-62.

“(Fresno State) started making plays. We had some sloppy turnovers,” Sprinkle said of those cold spells and FSU runs. “We missed some open shots during that, but we had some careless turnovers and some defensive miscues”

The most impactful cold spell for Utah State came in the final 4:45, a span in which the Aggies didn’t score a single point. It left the door open for Fresno State to score eight unanswered points to turn what was a 70-62 game into a tie game, 70-all as the clock hit triple zeros.

In that four-minute span, the Aggies had chances to close the door on a rally. They had a key turnover on an alley-oop attempt with 2:20 left and Great Osobor missed the front end of two different one-and-one trips to the free throw line in the final 99 seconds.

When overtime hit, the Aggies didn’t falter, though. Jackson, who played a career-high 31 minutes, kicked off overtime with a 3-pointer which gave him a career-best 16 points. That started an 11-0 Aggie run to begin OT. The first FSU points of overtime came with 48 seconds left in the game.

Jackson who celebrated his 22nd birthday today, also added five rebounds, three steals and enough hustle plays to make him arguably the most important player of the day.

“We don’t even come close to winning that game without Javon,” Sprinkle said.

The sophomore guard had to be prepared as his increase in minutes was mandated largely due to Mason Falslev missing the game due to a shoulder injury.

“I knew somebody had to come and pick it up because we were missing Mason today,” Jackson said. “I decided to do that. The coaches have been telling me all season just be ready so, I was ready.”

One could only say Jackson was arguably the most impactful because he was the second-leading scorer behind Osobor, who put home 29 points to go with 17 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Osobor drew 20 fouls in the game and went 15 of 24 at the free throw line. The 24 attempts set a new USU single-game record and tied the Mountain West Tournament record.

Osobor’s foul-drawing alone had a massive impact on the game as it put basically every Bulldogs player that guarded him in foul trouble. FSU center Enoch Boakye fouled out with 13 minutes left and Isaiah Pope fouled out late in the game. Leo Colimerio, Xavier DuSell and Donavan Yap all had four fouls by the end.

Drawing those fouls was a key to Utah State’s gameplan, but it didn’t always pay off as USU shot 26 of 36, not quite ideal and some of those missed free throws nearly cost USU the game.

“That’s just the style that we play, and our players, that’s kind of what we’re built for,” Sprinkle said. We obviously missed some front ends, and we had chances to — I wouldn’t say put them away, but we had a chance to make it a seven-point lead, and we would miss the front end of a one-on-one and they would hit a three. Now all of a sudden it’s a one-possession game. Moving forward we have to clean it up at the free-throw line.”

Utah State is now 10-1 in games decided by five or less points or went into overtime, 10-0 since the lone loss in such games, a 72-66 loss at Bradley in the second game of the season. More than a third of USU’s games fit into this category.

“It drives me crazy, but they seem to like it close,” Sprinkle joked.

The Aggies will move on and play the winner of No. 4 UNLV and No. 5 San Diego State. A victory in that game would send USU to its fifth Mountain West championship game since the 2018-19 season.

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