Neemias Queta's second half helps Utah State pull away from Fresno State for road win

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LOGAN — Neemias Queta looked like his usual 7-foot self in scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in Utah State's 69-53 win over Fresno State.

Well, at least in the second half.

Now imagine what he could do in 40 minutes.

Queta scored all but 2 points to go along with five rebounds and five blocked shots as the Aggies won their 12th game in the last 14 contests Thursday night at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

Steven Ashworth added 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and three assists for Utah State (14-5, 11-2 Mountain West), which held the Bulldogs to 37% from the field.

"We were a little disjointed on offense, specifically in that first half. Then defensively, we committed some really careless mistakes," Utah State coach Craig Smith admitted after the game. "But I'm proud of how we played in the second half. We really established Queta inside, and that makes things a lot easier for everybody.

"Seventeen assists on 26 baskets is an outstanding number, and our bench was outstanding."

Alphonso Anderson added 13 points and three rebounds, and Trevin Dorius had 9 points and five rebounds for a Utah State team that outscored the Bulldogs 32-27 off the bench.

"It's some good company to be a part of," Dorius said. "Steven's one of the quickest, craftiest guards I've played with, and Fonz is a threat in all spots on the floor.

"I never doubt if coach made the right decision … it's a good group of guys, and I think we play really well together."

Queta did a little bit of everything in the second half: scoring with his right hand, with a left-handed hook shot, and knocking down 4-of-5 free throws, finding his groove to keep the Aggies — who rank 54th in the NCAA's NET ratings — squarely on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament's field of 68, according to most projections.

The only things stopping him (however briefly): a pair of fouls in the first half, when he sat for 10 minutes; and a medical timeout with just under 9 minutes remaining, after which he walked off the court on his own volition.

Christian Gray had 9 points and four rebounds to lead Fresno State (7-7, 5-7 MW), the first time the Aggies held a team without a double-digit scorer in 2020-21.

Utah State also kept up its streak of outrebounding every Mountain West opponent this year with a plus-1 margin Thursday night, 32-31. No player had more than five boards, and the Aggies had four of them, including Justin Bean's 5 points and five rebounds.

Queta may have struggled before the break, scoring just 2 points with three rebounds in 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. But the Aggie backcourt made up for it en route to a 33-29 halftime edge, paced by Ashworth's 8 points and six apiece from Brock Miller and Marco Anthony in a 50% shooting effort that included just three 3-pointers.

With fresh legs in the second half, Queta went to work.

The 7-foot Portuguese center totaled 8 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, and Justin Bean drained a 3-pointer to cap a 6-0 spurt that put Utah State up 46-35 with 13:37 remaining.

Queta got it done on the defensive end, too. His third block of the game paced a 14-3 run that pushed the Aggies' lead up to 16, 51-35 with 11:35 left.

The Bulldogs never threatened again.

The biggest scare was when the Queta temporarily headed to the locker room with about 7 minutes remaining. He didn't have any visible limp or apparent injury, but he did have 14 points and five boards. He returned to the bench moments later, and pounded Dorius after the game, repeatedly saying, "You're a beast."

More important, the Aggies had a 19-point lead when he left, and the bench outscored the Bulldogs 32-27, led by Anderson (13), Ashworth (10) and Dorius (9).

"It's tough to earn minutes when we've got someone like Neemi playing at the level he's playing. It felt good that coach trusted me to go in when he went down in the second half," Dorius said.

"One thing I love about Neemi is that he's never been downgradingly competitive with me. His competitiveness is always about both of us getting better. So I came out, and he said, 'you're an animal.' He's probably one of my favorite guys to be around on the team."

Utah State will face the Bulldogs at 8 p.m. MT Saturday night on FS1.

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