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Utah State upset at home by UC Davis to open up the season

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: 4-5 minutes

LOGAN — In the waning moments of Utah State's season opener against UC Davis, the Aggies of Logan were in desperation mode.

Down four, Rylan Jones hit a 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining in regulation to cut the deficit to 65-64. Moments later, Brandon Horvath made a layup to cut the deficit to 67-66.

With 40 seconds left to play, Utah State needed a stop. Those in attendance rose to their feet, and 6,554 fans stood strong in an effort to inspire some "Spectrum Magic."

But UC Davis didn't believe in the home-team's magic.

Preseason All-Big West guard Elijah Pepper nailed a 3 with 14 seconds left to play to give the visiting Aggies a 4-point lead, all but sealing the game. UC Davis went on to win 72-69 in an uninspiring beginning to the Ryan Odom tenure at Utah State.

"Obviously, it's just a tough first game of the year," Jones said. "You know, never good to lose at home, especially in the Spectrum with all these great fans that came to watch us tonight."

Odom kept his calm composure in the post-game interview, despite opening his tenure with a loss to a Big West school.

"Disappointed, not discouraged," Odom said. "We've just got to play tougher, and we talked about that after the game. Our team is tougher than we played today."

It's a Utah State team who started three newcomers to the program and was outplayed at times. The Aggies coughed up 16 turnovers and shot just 36.1% from the field; UC Davis shot 39.7% from the field. Despite a size advantage in the hosts' favor, the two squads were tied 41-41 in the rebounding column.

It's a glaring issue that resulted in poor numbers from a lack of chemistry.

Utah State, who welcomed four new players to the program that are expected to make an impact, played 10 guys in a rotation — it was an effort to see how the team would gel in the season opener. When the starting five was on the court, they seemed to gel fine; but when the rotation was switched up, the drop off in production was apparent.

The five starters — Horvath, Justin Bean, RJ Eytle-Rock, Jones and Brock Miller — each had positive plus/minus, but the bench players who saw action were all in the negative.

Utah State led 17-7 with 12 minutes left in the first half; but with Bean, Etyle-Rock and Horvath sitting on the bench, UC Davis went on a 14-0 run and led 40-35 at halftime.

In that first half, the Aggies struggled to make layups and shot just 4 of 15 inside the arc. They also committed 12 turnovers, which resulted in several clean looks on the other end of the floor for UC Davis.

"Their physicality bothered us in the first half," Odom said. "That middle section of the first half was not very good for us."

Trailing by five entering halftime, Utah State needed to play better in all facets. The Aggies tightened up on defense and held UC Davis to 32 second-half points, slightly under the 40 allowed in the first half, and also improved around the rim where the team shot 10 of 16 from inside the arc.

But Utah State sputtered in other ways.

The home Aggies went 5 of 12 from beyond the arc and 12 of 15 from the free-throw line in the first half; in the second half, they were just 3 of 18 from 3-point range and 5 of 13 from the free-throw line.

"One possession, we had like four wide-open 3s and three of them were just in and out," Jones said. "You know, we're getting great shots. Just wasn't going in the hoop — there was a little bit of a lid on the basket. And then from the foul line, you've just got to make free throws — I don't know. I can't imagine our percentage was very good tonight."

Despite the shooting woes, the Aggies created some momentum for themselves in the game. With 13:22 to play, Steven Ashworth hit a 3 from well behind the arch to cut the deficit to two. Moments later, Horvath, who finished with a team-high 19 points, got to the hoop to tie the game.

Horvath scored 13 of his points in the second half to keep Utah State on pace.

Down the stretch, though, UC Davis, who came into Logan ranked No. 213 in KenPom.com and picked to finish fourth in the Big West Conference, made big plays down the stretch and expected to win.

In the second half, they shot 40.7% from the field, and went 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. After an Etle-Rock layup tied the score 61-61 with two minutes left to play, the visitors were perfect and scored 11 points — Ezra Manjon with 6 of them — to closeout the win.

Utah State now travels to Maryland to take on Richmond in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis.

"We weren't very consistent tonight, but we're gonna learn from this," Jones said. "You know, it's one game. We can't have any rear view, that's what coach Odom always said."

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