SALT LAKE CITY — For 29 minutes, Utah State was feeling pretty good.
Neemias Queta was putting on a defensive clinic, denying everything in the paint. Rollie Worster looked like a freshman phenom, scoring 10 points as he ran the Utah State offense in his collegiate debut. The Aggies were on their way to a season-opening win, up 7 points with under 11 minutes remaining.
Then everything changed.
Virginia Commonwealth went on an 18-0 run over a six-minute span to push the Rams to an 85-69 win over the Aggies Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Crossover Classic at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Utah State scored just 6 points in the final 10:56 of the contest and committed 11 second-half turnovers.
"It was a train wreck in every way, shape and form," Utah State head coach Craig Smith said.
Smith then went on to list all the things that plagued his team late — and no surprise, it was long. The Aggies missed open shots (again, they scored just 6 points in the final 10:56 and were just 4-of-17 from 3-point range). Smith called the turnovers "catastrophic" and they led to a majority of the points VCU scored in their late-game surge.
"It's like a pick-six in football," Smith said.
The Rams put pressure on the Aggies' young guards throughout the game. While Worster, Marco Anthony and Steven Ashworth handled that pressure early on, the wheels came off late, surrendering the ball over and over.
"We are very inexperienced in the backcourt, and that certainly showed," Craig said. "We kind of lost our poise when they made that big run. And they finished the game with a flourish and we really didn't have a response."
Even with the late collapse, Smith said there are things he liked about his team's performance — and those young guards.
Worster had 10 points and hit four of his first six shots of his college career. Smith also said that Anthony, who had 6 points and five rebounds, and Ashworth, who had 5 points and four rebounds in his collegiate debut, had good moments.
"We believe in those guys," Smith said. "I think those guys are gonna be very very good players, but certainly tonight VCU got the best of us."
Queta finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Utah State and Justin Bean added 13 points and four rebounds. But even those veterans couldn't slow the tide late.
"It hasn't been often where we get punched in the mouth and we don't keep punching back," Smith said. "I thought we really got on our heels and lost our attack mode, quite frankly. So it's part of the deal we have learned and grown from it."
The Aggies will play South Dakota State Thursday at 4:30 p.m. MT on the second day of the tournament.