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Offensive surge propels comeback, OT victory for Utah State in The Pit

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

LOGAN β€” Playing their first game in 10 days, things weren't going well for Utah State basketball Saturday night.

At halftime in a bout with New Mexico, the Aggies appeared lifeless and gave up 10 3-pointers and shot just 36% from the field.

Down 42-27, the Aggies were on the verge of losing their second straight game in Mountain West Conference play against a bottom-feeder team in the conference. Fortunately for the Aggies, and possibly the morale of the team, they came alive in the second half.

Ryan Odom's squad put up 49 second-half points to force overtime. Then, after a go-ahead layup from Steven Ashworth and an ensuing free throws, the Aggies completed the comeback in The Pit with a gutsy 90-87 win.

"Coaches told us at halftime we had to respond, we had to stop being soft and really look ourselves in the mirror and react," senior forward Justin Bean said. "And so I thought we came out with an aggression and a passion.

"Everyone's blood sugar's probably running high."

As it often is when Utah State faces New Mexico on the road, it was undoubtedly a nerve-wreaking game. But it was also a game that could potentially give the Aggies the momentum they need going into a tough stretch of conference games, including a road matchup against nationally-ranked Colorado State on Wednesday.

To get it done, it took an all-out effort from several players in the final 25 minutes of play. Facing a .500 New Mexico team that was missing head coach Richard Petino due to COVID, six different Aggies scored in double digits and shot 72% from the field in the second half and overtime period.

The ever-consistent Bean led the Aggies with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. RJ Etyle-Rock, playing what Odom called his "best game of the season," added 16 points. Sean Bairstow, who made his second-career start, had 14 points, including a jaw-dropping dunk in the second half to help propel the comeback.

"Just a ton of big plays throughout the game that happened from different guys," Odom said. "We had a lot thrown at us, and, you know, a great atmosphere here. It was a great college basketball game."

New Mexico gave the Aggies all they could handle defensively and shot 17-of-34 from 3-point range. Lobos guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. had a game-high 29 points, while Javont Johnson chipped in 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

"That was quite the barnburner," Bean said.

Down by as much as 17 in the first half, the Aggies nabbed their first lead of the game, 65-63, when Rylan Jones got layup with 5:34 left in the game. An and-one layup by Bean gave the Aggies a 4-point lead moment later. But the Lobos stayed in it, and a made 3-pointer by Johnson gave New Mexico the lead with 4:10 to play.

Down the stretch, the game proceeded to get interesting.

With the Aggies trailing by 1 with a minute left in regulation, Jones was fouled hard on a loose ball and had to leave the game. By rule, New Mexico elected who would take free throws in his place and chose center Trevin Dorius, who has shot just over 50% for the season.

Dorius buried both to take the lead.

"That's a funny story because we knew they would probably pick him," Odom said. "And once they did you know he and I looked at one another and then I said, 'this is your moment, man,' like in a very positive way. And he was like, 'Let's go. Yeah, it is.'"

After two additional free throws by Ashworth, Utah State led by 3 points with 10 seconds to play. Electing not to foul, New Mexico got the ball to KJ Jenkins, who buried a corner 3-pointer to even up the game.

Wasting no time, Ashworth received the rebound and hoisted a halfcourt shot at the buzzer and drained it. The shot was waved off, though, due to a New Mexico timeout.

"I can't believe you made it, that was crazy," Bean said of Ashworth's heave. "But yeah, I felt like that would have been too easy though, too good to be true. I knew that the refs would have called it back. They were obviously going to the score table, so I knew there was something up. But that was a really impressive shot. I mean, he should just keep that in his archives one day and say it counted."

After the timeout, the Aggies had a second chance β€” a shot from Bean that rimmed out to send the game into overtime.

In the extra time, Utah State managed to get it done with two big plays: a running jumper from Bean and an and-one layup from Ashworth. The Aggies then made the necessary stops on the other end to hold on for a win.

The defensive effort from the Aggies in the waning minutes was crucial; they didn't shut down the Lobos but limited the open looks they had given up earlier in the game.


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