During a timeout with five minutes remaining in Utah State’s 63-50 victory over the Northern Colorado Bears, Aggie head coach Craig Smith ran to mid-court, pumped his fists, and exclaimed to the crowd, “Let’s Go!” For Smith, who hadn’t been able to coach a game since Nov 27, and his team, which hasn’t been able to play since Dec 10 ― both due to the pandemic ― the enthusiasm brought back a simple message: Aggie basketball was back.
“There’s no place like the Spectrum, and that’s not lip service, this place is incredible,” said Smith. “I haven’t coached a game here since senior night against San Jose…It just felt great, obviously, it felt like home, the spirited atmosphere, the enthusiasm was awesome and our guys gave us something to cheer about, specifically in the second half.”
Utah State (3-3) had their hands full most of the game. In fact, Northern Colorado (3-2) was up 36-32 four minutes into the second half. But the Aggies responded. After two made free throws from Marco Anthony to even the score at 36 all, they brought full-court pressure. And that proved to be the turning point. Once the press started, the Aggies would close the game out on a 27-14 run.
“That was an adjustment that coach Smith wanted to throw-in in the second half and I thought it worked great for us,” said junior forward Justin Bean, who would finish with a game-high 11 rebounds and 12 points ― his 28th double-double which is tied for 10th all-time in Utah State history with Jimmy Moor. “It really shortened their possessions and didn’t give them as much of a chance to run their sets and made them a little uncomfortable and then obviously it gave us some good looks on offense and helped us attack more on the offensive end.”
“In the second half I thought we really really defended well,” said Smith. “Got after them, pressed a few possessions and that kind of got us off our heels a bit, and then we just started scoring.”
Leading the scoring charge was junior guard Marco Anthony, who would finish the game with 19 points going 7-20 shooting. Bean and freshman guard Rollie Worster each had 12. Utah State was able to force nine second-half turnovers, which they turned into 14 points. And they shot it 14-31 from the field in the second half, a majority of the field goals layups.
“I think as a team we really just attacked well off the bounce,” said Bean. “I thought we settled a little bit early, our shots weren’t falling and good teams have to adjust so when shots aren’t falling we just have to find other ways to score.”
To start the game, the Aggies came out strong on offense. A pair of jumpers from Anthony, a layup by Bean, some nice touch around the rim from Neemy, and the Aggies shot out to a 13-4 lead just 4:09 into the game. They started out 6 for 7 shooting.
“I thought we got off to a great start,” said Smith. “We had a great flow on offense, were really defending hard, and then we just kind of came to a grinding halt on the offensive end.”
For the remaining 15 minutes of the half, they’d shoot it 6-24 from the field. They had moments of flashiness ― including a nice bounce pass from junior Neemias Queta to Bean for a bucket, and a back-shoulder pass from Queta to Anthony, who attempted to posterize Northern Colorado’s Bodie Hume at the rim before settling for free throws ― but they were inconsistent.
“I thought we did a good job getting it to Neemy and he made some really good passes,” said Bean. Queta would finish with six points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
By taking advantage of Aggie’s offensive woes and creating opportunities for themselves, the Bears made it just a one-point Aggie lead at halftime, 28-27.
“How many times especially that first half, was that shot clock down to five (seconds) or less, and they willed it into the hole,” said Smith.
Guard Daylen Kountz proved to be trouble for the Aggie defense, getting into the lane, hitting floaters, and finished the game with 13 points. Forward Kur Jockuch would finish with 11 points, and guard Bodie Hume would finish with ten.
The Bears offense continued to have success to start the second half but struggled once the Aggie press started.
Overall, the Aggies defense was on full display. UNC’s 50 points marked a season-low for a Utah State opponent this year. Northern Colorado would finish the game 19-48 from the field, good for 39.6 percent. Their 37.5 percent effort in the second half marked the third straight time the Aggies have held an opponent to less than 40 percent shooting in the final half.
The Aggies offense finished the game 26 for 62 from the field, good for 41.9 percent, and three of eight from beyond the arch, good for 37.5 percent.
“Overall, we just got back to playing our game, especially on the defensive end,” said Bean. “I’m really proud of our guys of how we accepted the challenge on short notice and beat a really good Northern Colorado team. “
Utah State now turns their attention to conference play, as they take on the San Jose State Spartans Monday night in the Spectrum.