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Takeaways from a Utah State exhibition victory over Montana Western

Justin Bean waves to the Utah State crowd after a game against Nevada, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 in Logan.

Justin Bean waves to the Utah State crowd after a game against Nevada, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 in Logan. (Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

LOGAN β€” Late in the first half of Utah State's exhibition game against Montana Western, RJ Etyle-Rock retrieved a Montana Western airball and launched it down the court to a dashing Justin Bean, who collected it, sprung and threw down a one-handed jam to give Utah State men's basketball a 40-28 lead late in the first half.

As an ever animated Bean turned to the student section and flexed his muscles in excitement, one thing was apparent: Aggies basketball was back.

Bean led the way for Utah State with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists en route to an 81-51 victory over the Division II Bulldogs in Logan Wednesday night.

"I was literally a kid on Christmas morning and just waking up knowing it's game day in Spectrum," Bean said. "Great environment. This is my fifth year here. But every time it just feels like it's different, like it's a new flavor each year."

This year, more than ever, is different. There's a new coaching staff and three starters that weren't on last year's team. The late October exhibition game gave 6,390 people the chance to see some of that change first hand.

Here's a few things we learned from the game:

Three new heads

What do you do when three starters leave your program β€” two of them to follow their old coach? You bring in your old players, of course, then poach one of the old coach's new players.

That is exactly what new Utah State head coach Ryan Odom did in his first season. After guards Marco Anthony and Rollie Worster joined Craig Smith at Utah, and Neemias Queta entered the NBA draft, Odom brought over two first-team All-American players from UMBC β€” guard RJ Etyle-Rock and forward Brandon Horvath.

When Smith arrived in Salt Lake City, for Utes guard Rylan Jones entered the transfer portal. Odom and assistant coach Nate Dixon convinced the former Cache Valley resident to return home.

Those three individuals all started Wednesday night, along with Brock Miller and Justin Bean.

"I thought you saw some bright spots there," Odom said. "I mean, all three of them were counted on heavily tonight."

Etyle-Rock, who Odom called a "quiet" yet "engaging" kid, wrapped up the night 4-of-7 from the field, with 9 points and three assists. The graduate transfer has a built frame and explosiveness attacking the hoop, and he showed that with a couple of contested layups that facilitated a late surge to close the game on a 9-2 run.

"You kind of saw at the end, you know, there RJ making some plays," Odom said. "He's a good player. And he's a winning player."

Horvath, a 6-foot-10 forward, who Odom called the "talker" and "loudest one," had a strong night for the Aggies. It didn't hurt that the tallest player on Montana Western's roster was 6-foot-7.

Horvath finished 6-of-11 from the field with 14 points and eight rebounds. He found success off of the pick and roll and in set plays, being the benefactor of several of the Utah State's 22 assists and getting easy finishes at the rim.

What he didn't show much of was his "3 and D" play; he was 0-for-1 shooting beyond the arch.

"To his credit, he didn't just shoot 3's against a team that was smaller than him," Odom said. "There was a clear focus of, okay, let's score around the rim and put pressure on them."

Jones, who wore braces on both ankles, looked healthy following an up and down offseason of injuries. Finishing 4-of-7 from the field with five assists, the junior transfer showed flashes of the savviness he showed at Utah and forced two charges and made nice passes.

He also got things going for the Aggies in the second half by hitting a mid-range jumper off the dribble, which was followed by a catch and shoot 3-pointer.

Aggies offense will run

With the exception of Szymon Zapala, who played just five minutes against the undersized Bulldogs, it appears every contributing role player has the ability to bring the ball up the court. They're also not afraid to let it fly.

Utah State finished the night just 6-of-22 from beyond the arch, just 27.3%, but took 34% of their shots from range despite having a major size advantage.

"Offensively, we feel like anyone can take their shot, and everyone is capable of shooting the ball," Bean said. "So when they're out on the floor, if they're open, they're gonna shoot it. And so I think that's the biggest translation I think we've seen from last year to this year is that, you know, everyone one through four and sometimes the five man, Brandon, when he's out there, he can step out and then shoot a 3."

Returning guards Brock Miller and Steven Ashworth may particularly enjoy the new free-flowing offense that is much different than the half-court grind from last year when the offense seemed to run inside-out with Queta. Miller finished the night 2-of-7 from 3-point range, and Ashworth was 2-of-4.

"I think part of that is a function of we've got to get the right ones. And so when we did get the right ones, most of them went in," Odom said. "(It's) just a learning process for teams, when you're mixing in different lineups, and all that kind of stuff."

Injury Bug

Utah State's Blue and White scrimmage on Oct. 21 was canceled, largely in part to injuries on the team. But the collective health of the team appeared to improve dramatically since last week as 13 players made an appearance Wednesday.

Miller and Jones, who had both been banged up, both played 27 minutes. Two players expected to be contributors that didn't play were junior guard Sean Bairstow and junior center Trevin Dorius.

"It's early in the season right now, we've obviously had some other guys that have been injured in Trevin and Sean," Odom said. "Those two, in particular, showed really well early in the season and were going to be in the rotation as well."

Both are expected to return at some point during the nonconference slate and provide depth to a team that is learning to mesh together.


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