Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
LOGAN — Steven Ashworth slammed the ball down on the court and stared up at it in exasperation as it sailed above his head.
Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett and Utah State head coach Ryan Odom exchanged a few heated words, and then Bennett stormed off the court, clapped his hands in the air as a myriad of boos and expletives from fans showered down.
A marquee nonconference matchup between two high-end, mid-major programs, it was unsurprising the game between Utah State and Saint Mary's went right down to the wire. But rather than come down to a last-second shot Thursday night, the game was decided by a whistle and free throws.
In the waning seconds and with the score tied 58-58, Rylan Jones' 3-point shot rimmed out. In a scramble for the rebound, Justin Bean collided with Saint Mary's guard Alex Ducas and was called for the foul with 0.9 seconds left in the game.
Ducas sank both free throws.
Utah State quickly advanced the ball to mid-court and called a timeout, with one last opportunity for a bucket with 0.6 left on the clock. But the inbounds pass went to Bean near the hoop and the contested ball went out of his hands and bounced off a Saint Mary's player before it skidded out of bounds.
The game clock, which malfunctioned all game long, didn't start and the referees went to the monitor to see how much time was left. After a brief discussion, they waved their arms and declared the game over, and then made a b-line out of the arena. Much to the displeasure of 8,888 rabid fans in the blacked-out Spectrum, Saint Mary's won 60-58.
"Yeah, obviously a bitter, bitter loss for us," Odom said. "Tough loss, you know, hard way to end the game; there's no really shying away from that."
"Just a heartbreaking way to end it," Bean said. "You know, I (was) just going up for a rebound and thought I had the ball first and didn't think I fouled the guy. But you know, we can't change that. And that's just basketball."
The game as a whole was — as Bean put it — "gritty" the whole way through.
There were high-flying collisions at the rim and bodies sprawled on the floor, and 31 combined turnovers. The Aggies finished the game just 20-of-53 shooting and 3 of 15 from 3-point range. Saint Mary's finished the night 24-of-53 shooting and 7 of 23 from deep.
Bean led the way for Aggies with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Ashworth provided a big spark off the bench and added 12 points. For the Gaels, Ducas had a team-high 13 points, while forward Matthias Tass and guard Tommy Kuhse both chipped in 10 points apiece.
After a first half where baskets were hard to come by, both offenses settled in for the final 20 minutes. Saint Mary's, which was 0 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half, got hot and went 7 of 11 in the second half. They'd take their first lead of the game with 16:19 left in the half, 32-29, after back-to-back to back triples.
But the Aggies snatched the momentum back momentum and went on a 14-5 run, which was highlighted by a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from Ashworth, and an and-one layup from Jones.
Undeterred, the Gaels continued to claw back and got good shots at the rim and hit open jumpers to again take the lead on a Jabe Mullins 3-pointer with just over six minutes left to play.
"They got downhill a lot on us in the second half and made some good plays, collapsed our defense and knocked down some shots," Bean said. "We kind of were daring them to shoot a little bit in some instances, but I thought our closeouts could've been better. We just didn't guard how we wanted to that second half and it cost us.
"They had some big plays down the stretch," he added. "And you can say what you want about the refs, obviously there's going to be a lot of chatter about that the next couple days, but at the end of the day they won the game. You can't change that."
Following the game, there was an icy exchange between Odom and Bennett. Odom, though, said the two "definitely shook hands."
Lol Randy Bennett went out the most Randy Bennett way possible. Saint Mary's wins at Utah State in controversial fashion and Bennett bas words with USU'a coach and riles up Aggie fans at the end pic.twitter.com/lHg2GxTvva— Robby McCombs (@rtmccombs) December 3, 2021
"But you know, initially, we're holding hands," he said. "And then, you know, we were chatting there for a second, but I'm not going to get into the details of what we were talking about that's part of the game. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Saint Mary's, for coach Bennett.
"It's just the guts of the game — things happen," Odom added. "And it is what it is. He didn't do anything wrong. You know, it was just part of the ending there. None of us like the ending from an Aggie perspective, but we wish them well; we wish their team well this season. They have a very good team and he's a great coach."
The schedule doesn't get easier for the Aggies, as they travel to Provo to take on BYU next Wednesday.