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Utah State offense sputters, Aggies suffer disappointing loss to open conference play

Utah State guard Rylan Jones (15) brings the ball up court in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against BYU Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Provo, Utah.

Utah State guard Rylan Jones (15) brings the ball up court in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against BYU Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

LOGAN — With two seconds remaining in Utah State's game against Air Force, Steven Ashworth hoisted up a deep 3-pointer in an attempt to win the game. But similar to the 17 3-point attempts that came before it, the ball clanked off the rim and out.

Utah State finished 1 of 19 from 3-point range and fell to Air Force 49-47 Wednesday afternoon for their second Quad 4 loss of the season.

Quite the clunker of a loss.

In the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams, the Aggies were double-digit favorites and expected to win with ease.

The Falcons were riding a three-game losing streak, missing two starters due to COVID-19 protocols and were ranked 265th in the NET rankings. By comparison, UC Davis, who the Aggies lost to in the season opener, is 194th in the NET rankings.

But fresh off the Christmas break — the majority of the Aggies roster went home for holiday — Utah State, who is battling for its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament bid, failed to outplay the Falcons.

According to senior forward Justin Bean, who finished with a game-high 18 points, the time away wasn't to blame for the dismal performance.

"Every team is obviously going to have those kinds of lulls getting back, and I thought we'd had really good practices … and kind of got our mojo back," Bean said.

"I think today, it was just one of those days, you know, (we) just couldn't quite put it in the hole. And sometimes it's — it's hard to explain why that happens."

Teams aren't going to win many games shooting 32.7% from the field, 5% from beyond the arc and 66.7% from the free-throw line. The Aggies proved that much, failing to outscore an Air Force team ranked 328th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

Even the Utah State football team put up more points on the Falcons than the basketball team, winning 49-45 in September.

One word to blame such a dismal performance? "Tentativeness," head coach Ryan Odom said.

"You know, we didn't make shots, we didn't make free throws, whatever. Bottom line is we were tentative and we were not playing Utah State basketball on the offensive end," he said.

Consistent throughout the entire game, the tentativeness, or plainly a lack of urgency, was exemplified in the waning moments.

Down 46-45 with 2:24 to play, senior forward Brandon Horvath had an open dunk at the rim to take the lead. But going up somewhat sluggishly, he was swatted from behind by Falcons forward Nikc Jackson.

Inside two minutes, the Aggies settled for back-to-back jumpers from senior guard Brock Miller, who to that point was 0 of 6 from the field; he missed both of them. Still down 46-45 with 10 seconds to play, junior guard Rylan Jones fed the ball inside to Bean, who rather than take it to the hoop, immediately dished it back to Jones, who turned it over.

With 3.5 seconds to play, down 49-47, the Aggies tried to find Bean again, but settled for a 27-foot jumper from sophomore guard Steven Ashworth.

"The last play, obviously, we wanted to try to get it to Bean," Odom said. "They did a nice job in the first option of covering him up. And second option would have been Brock and then third was kind of how it ended, you know, with Steven and RJ (Etyle-Rock) playing a little bit of a give and go."

Air Force did their part in playing into Utah State's hesitant nature by eating up the shot clock offensively and controlling the possession.

The Aggies held strong defensively for moments, forcing a pair of second-half shot clock violations, but the Falcons stepped up in key moments. Senior guard AJ Walker hit two second-half 3s, including one with 4:14 left to go up 46-41. He finished with 16 points.

Tied 22-22 at halftime, the Falcons opened the second half on a 9-3 run and never surrendered the lead.

For Utah State, though, the loss was about its failure on the offensive end. It's something they'll have to fix before Boise State comes to Logan Tuesday.

"How are we going to play to our strengths a little bit better, you know, from an offensive perspective, and with less pressure, with more freedom, and more joy?" Odom said.

But whatever the Aggies plan to do in the coming days, it won't change the result of Wednesday's performance.

"Obviously, it's a bitter disappointing loss," Odom said.

"You know, we're not above it, we've got to make sure that we are keeping things in proper perspective. But at the same time, we got to go for it, you know tonight, we didn't necessarily go for it."


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