Aggies Pull Off First Conference Win Ever Against Aztecs 70-54
The Aggies were unstoppable at home for the talented Aztecs, and took a huge step toward NCAA Tourney at-large worthiness.
This was the first win against San Diego State for Utah State since joining the Mountain West in the 2013-14 season.
Logan, Utah- The Utah State Aggies (23-6, 13-3) decisively defeated the San Diego State Aztecs (18-10, 10-5) 70-54 at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Tuesday night. While the Aggies were the favored team: this was their first win EVER against the Aztecs in Mountain West Conference play after an 11-game losing streak.
The win sets up an epic battle against Nevada at the Spectrum for a share of first place in the Mountain West.
Sam Merrill, Justin Bean and company played out of their minds against Devin Watson, Jalen McDaniels, Matt Mitchell and the Aztecs. San Diego State was relentlessly menaced on the court, and the referees were stingy on calling fouls. The fans were frenetic, rabid and deafening, and the Aztecs were overpowered by it all.
San Diego State entered this game on a five-game win streak, and having won eight of the previous nine games. They finished last week decisively taking down #6 Nevada, and then surviving a fiercely contested match that was decided by a single point against UNLV in Las Vegas during coach Marvin Menzies‘ 400th Division I game.
They took a five-hour bus ride home leaving immediately after the game in Las Vegas after the hard fought win at Thomas and Mack, and had limited time to re-group and prepare for the Aggies at the Spectrum three days later. Still, this is not unusual in conference play.
The Aggies wanted to make a big statement to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee- and that’s exactly what they did.
“Tonight was a fun night,” senior Quinn Taylor said. “I feel like we came out with an edge and played 40 minutes with an edge… We want to be the toughest team anyone plays. We want them to leave the gym saying, ‘we don’t want to see those guys again.’ I think we did a great job tonight of that with our rebounding effort and our defensive effort… It was a great game plan and we just played with great energy and it was a lot of fun.”
Neither team broke 40 percent shooting in the first half. Statistically speaking, these are the two best defenses in the MW. The Aztecs really struggled, shooting 15 percent on 2-point field goal attempts, and 21.4 percent overall. The Aggies owned the boards, outscoring SDSU in the paint 22-6 leading up to a 31-21 halftime lead.
“I think a big thing was our points in the paint,” Taylor said. “That’s going to be a tell of who’s playing a little harder, who’s diving for 50-50 balls. That’s kind of just the chemistry or the way that coach wants us to play.”
Utah State finished the game with 46 points in the paint to SDSU’s 20.
Freshman Justin Bean was on fire for USU in the second half, scoring the Aggies’ first six points. A 10-4 run by the Aztecs cut the Aggies’ lead to just six points.
Utah State responded with a 14-5 run to again push the lead into double-digits which remained through the rest of the game.
A lot of Aztecs fans would like to have seen coach Brian Dutcher call a timeout to regroup his team when coming within two possessions of a lead.
Junior Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 19 points on the night. Taylor notched his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Diogo Brito added 12 points plus four rebounds and three assists off the bench. Sophomore Abel Porter grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with five assists.
A nearly-full student section relished the Aggies’ first victory over San Diego State since 1998, unleashing an “up-by-20” chant following a layup from Merrill that gave USU a 64-44 victory.
With the win, coach Craig Smith set the program record for most wins in a first season at Utah State with 23. And he’s still going. Ladell Andersen originally set the record with 22 victories in 1962.
“Here’s what it tells you,” coach Smith said, “we have great players. We have players that are seriously all in. We have a great coaching staff… At the end of the day, when you surround yourself with great people, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. I think that’s where the credit certainly goes.”
On Saturday, the Aggies face Mountain West-leading Nevada in Logan. With a win, USU ties Nevada for first place in the Mountain West.
The Wolf Pack took the first game of the season series with an embarrassing 72-49 rout against the Aggies.
Coach Smith on their upcoming game versus the Wolf Pack: “They’re really good. They’re the defending Mountain West champs. They went to the Sweet Sixteen (of the NCAA Tournament) last year. They have it all… At the end of the day, we just have to play Aggie basketball. We have to not overthink it, not make it bigger than it is, and just keep on playing the way we’ve been playing from day one.”
Nevada at Utah State will be a game worth watching.