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A perfect 10: Utah State winning streak continues with close victory over SDSU

Utah State center Neemias Queta (23) blocks the shot of San Diego State forward Joshua Tomaic during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

(Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via AP)

LOGAN — Utah State was on center stage Saturday.

An early afternoon CBS game broadcast from Logan? That's not a common occurrence. In fact, it was the first time it's happened during a regular season.

"I think that speaks wonders to certainly our opponent, San Diego State, is nationally recognized, and what we've been able to do here the last two years," USU head coach Craig Smith said. "That's quite an accomplishment."

But to really have the benefits of the extra exposure, the Aggies had to win. Good thing they're getting pretty good at that.

Former Lone Peak guard Steven Ashworth had 17 points to lead USU to its 10th straight win with a 64-59 victory over San Diego State on Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

"That was a heck of a game. I want to thank our fans, first of all, our fans and administration, everyone who came out today. You could feel the energy in the gym today, they certainly helped us tonight," Smith said. "San Diego State played really well. We knew they were going to. They're a championship-level team for a reason. They're very good, they play tough and they're tough-minded."

That championship level was seen to close the first half when the Aztecs (9-4, 3-3), playing without their best player Matt Mitchell, went on a 19-3 run to take a 10-point lead at halftime. The Aggies (11-3, 8-0), who haven't lost since Dec. 5, were suddenly in an unfamiliar place. Every other victory during the streak has come by double-digits.

"Turnovers were killing us on both ends of the floor," Smith said. "On the offensive end, we had no pace. We looked like we had no direction. We had a deer in the headlights look, and that's a credit to San Diego State. They were very aggressive and took us out of some of our stuff."

The Aggies got to halftime, regrouped and came back looking like a different team. USU went on a 15-2 run right out of the break.

"I credit our guys to really come together and not blame each other, not point a finger at any teammates or coaches or vice versa," Smith said. "Then we came out on fire in the second half, in the first five minutes we were able to get back that 10-point deficit."

With 2:26 left, USU center Neemias Queta fouled out contesting a layup at the rim. Queta, who had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, sat as Lamont Butler went to the free-throw line and cut the Aggies' lead to a single point.

With their best player — and arguably the Mountain West's best defender — watching from the bench, Utah State closed the game by allowing just 3 points for the remainder of the game.

SDSU's Jordan Schakel missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. The shot was on line, but was well short after Schakel pulled up well behind the 3-point arc.

"We made some big plays down the stretch, shot well from the free-throw line and only had four turnovers in the second half of the game," Smith said. "It was a tale of two halves, holding them to 34.5% in the second half. We did a lot of great things, and fortunately for us, we were able to find a way to win."

Brock Miller had 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting for the Aggies, and Alphonso Anderson added 9 points with a strong second-half performance. USU was 19-of-25 from the free-throw line and was able to close out the game at the charity stripe.

"Great game today, a great team win," said Ashworth, who set his career-high in points. "I think that was the definition of a team win, a lot of guys stepping up, a lot of guys making plays."

The Aztecs were without Mitchell after he hyperextended his knee during USU's win over SDSU on Thursday. While Smith said ahead of the game that the teams knew everything about each other, the Aggies seemed ill-prepared for Mitchell's replacement: Butler.

The seldom-used guard had a debut party of sorts on Saturday. In the first half, he had four steals alone and scored 13 points.

"It's a disappointing loss," SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said. "With that being said, I like the toughness and grit of this team. Without Matt Mitchell, we came out and fought hard."

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