Utah State breaks losing streak with win over rival San Diego State

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LOGAN — Utah State was in desperation mode.

With a 1-5 record in conference play and a four-game losing streak in the back of their minds, the Aggies, for the sake of the season, needed a win. And in the Spectrum on a Wednesday night, the Aggies rose to the occasion against their most heated Mountain West Conference rival, San Diego State.

In front of 7,312 rowdy fans, the struggling Aggies offense found its stride against the Aztecs defense, which is ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency; and four Aggies players finished in double digits as Utah State shot 40% from 3-point range.

Justin Bean danced. Sean Bairstow flexed and let out a war cry. And Utah State came away with an emphatic 75-57 win over the Aztecs.

"It just feels really good to get off that losing streak, especially like how we were losing — just really close games to really good teams," senior forward Brandon Horvath said. "... It feels really good to beat a really good team because we've played pretty much all the really good teams in the conference really close. It feels good to finally get over that hump."

For the first time since December, the Aggies offense functioned to its capacity. Steven Ashworth finished with five made 3-pointers and a team high 17 points, Bean chipped in 13 points, and Horvath had 12 points. As a team, the Aggies shot 49.1% from the field and were 10-of-24 beyond the arc.

"We felt like we'd been right there, and tonight I think what you saw was offensively we got back to Aggie basketball and how we were playing a little bit earlier in the season," head coach Ryan Odom said. "Less isolations, more movement and better decisions. The ball was just moving a whole lot faster offensively."

Knowing the Aztecs were playing their third game in five days, the Aggies emphasized pace and moved quickly in transition to score 16 points off turnovers. On one sequence, Ashworth grabbed a defensive rebound and sprinted down the court where he dished it back to a trailing Bean, who sunk a 3-pointer at the top of the key.

On the next play, Bairstow got a steal, Ashworth got an open look on the other end and hit the shot to give Utah State a 55-40 lead with 11:02 remaining.

"They move at a pace they had moved at all year," San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said. "So they were sensational."

In the half court, Utah State played loose. Dribble-heavy sequences were minimized and passing was effective, and the Aggies finished with 19 assists, which accounted for 70% of their made baskets.

Coming into the game, Odom and Bean looked to find ways to get the rest of the team involved, rather than a recent strategy to get Bean the ball in the post and rely on him to score.

In the first half, Bean got the ball just outside the paint and was met with a double team. He kicked it out and the ball was swung around the arc until it got to Ashworth, who buried a wide open corner 3-pointer.

"Bean was back to playing the way that he was playing earlier in the season: free and loose and fun and active," Odom said. "... I have probably messed him up a little bit in terms of once we started conference play trying to really force-feed him. He and I have talked a lot about, 'Hey, if it's there, we want you to go, but you also could be the creator for others.'"

Ashworth had four 3-pointers in the first half and helped give Utah State a 32-31 lead at halftime.

"Steven got us off to a good start with some timely 3s, and some were open, which they're hard to get against San Diego State," Odom said.

Utah State opened up the second half on fire, with Rj Etyle-Rock putting up 8 points over a three-minute period. With 15 minutes left to play, the Aggies kicked off a 13-4 run that was capped off by a 3-pointer by Max Shulga.

Utah State led by 16 and looked bent on running away with the game. The Aztecs responded, however, and went on a 13-4 run of their own. Back-to-back floaters from Matt Bradley cut the lead to just 62-55 with 5:19 remaining in the game.

The San Diego State offense, despite scoring just 57 points, shot 49% from the field and 33% from 3-point range. Bradley finished with a game-high 19 points and Chad Baker-Mazara had 15 points in the loss.

The difference-maker for the Aggies defense was on the glass. San Diego State had zero offensive rebounds. The consistent rebounding from Utah State and the ensuing sprint up the court broke the Aztecs in the waning moments, and the Aggies finished on a 13-2 run to closeout the game.

"A huge key to the game: zero offensive rebounds for them," Odom said. "Our guys did a nice job blocking out and securing those. I think our guys just made winning plays. They kept coming back at us. Bradley's a really tough guy to guard."

The win springs the Aggies from No. 71 to No. 53 in KenPom's rating system. The Aggies have now won three of the past four games against San Diego State.

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