On emotional night, Utah State falls to Colorado State as it honors seniors

Utah State Aggies head coach Ryan Odom reacts to a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado State Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fort Collins, Colo. Colorado State beat Utah State 77-72. (Jack Dempsey, Associated Press)

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LOGAN — Emotions ran high inside for the Utah State basketball team inside the Spectrum Saturday night.

In the final home game of the regular season, four seniors were honored before the game. Justin Bean, Brandon Horvath, Brock Miller and RJ Etyle-Rock walked to center court with their families and gave a brief speech to the crowd.

The spotlight was also on sophomore guard Max Shulga, who is from Kyiv, Ukraine.

To support his family and nation during the ongoing Russian invasion, Shulga draped a Ukrainian flag over himself before the game. When he checked into the game, Utah State students held up blue and yellow papers resembling the Ukrainian flag — several Aggies players wore yellow and blue shoelaces, as well.

The emotions were shown on the court as the Aggies played one of their most intense games of the season in front of 9,219 rowdy fans. But it didn't translate into efficiency — Utah State shot just 33% (6 of 18) from the free-throw line, 41.2% from the field and 28.6% from 3-point range.

The offensive struggles were too much to overcome and Utah State fell to Colorado State 66-55.

"Fun start to the night honoring those four guys," Utah State head coach Ryan Odom said. "It was great to see their families out there and all of our Aggie fans supporting them. That was a neat moment to hear those guys talk about their experience.

"Rough night for us, pretty much all-around. … For us, we can't go 6 for 18 from the free-throw line and expect to beat a good team; it's just as simple as that."

Despite the poor offensive numbers, a rare opportunity for a Quad 1 win at home was alive and well into the second half. The Aggies were playing tremendous defense and led 41-37 with 10 minutes left in the game.

Then Colorado State flexed its muscle.

Tthe Rams switched into a zone defense and disrupted the Aggies' ability to attack the basket. On the other end of the floor, Kendle Moore hit back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 49-41 lead with 6:49 left to play — completing a 12-0 run by the Rams.

The Aggies clawed back as Etyle-Rock hit a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two with 2:52 to play. But switching defenses from man to zone didn't slow down the Rams.

Moore hit a deep 3-pointer with just over two minutes to play, and Colorado State closed the game on a 14-5 run to beat the Utah State. Moore finished with a game-high 23 points and tallied 18 of those points in the second half. His surprise performance, along with Utah State's offensive woes, was too much to handle for the Aggies.

"He stepped up tonight, he shot lights out, to be honest," Etyle-Rock said. "We didn't know he was going to shoot like that. We could have guarded him much better. We tried to switch up our defense in the second half to go into something different but we just kept losing him."

Etyle-Rock, and the three other seniors, all made a concerted effort in what may be the final game in the Spectrum for each of them.

Etyle-Rock finished with a team-high 14 points, Horvath had 11 points, Bean had 10 points and Miller added 3 points. The seniors struggled to get great looks, and Bean was just 4 of 11 from the field and Miller was 1 of 5; Horvath went 3 of 10 from the free-throw line.

But the emotional intensity wasn't lacking.

Trailing 25-13 with 5:51 left in the first half, shooting below 30% from the field, Utah State turned it on. The Aggies forced Colorado State star David Roddy to turn over the ball and Bean finished with a dunk on the other end. After getting another stop, Horvath had a poster dunk over Colorado State's Isaiah Rivera to cut the deficit to 25-17.

On the other end, Roddy tried to stop the run with a dunk of his own. Standing in his way was Bean, who rose up and blocked the ball away from the hoop — a tremendous play that electrified the arena.

"When he gets any window he's going up with it, so I just tried to meet up at the rim," Bean said. "Thankfully, he was able to make a good play and got some momentum for the team and myself."

The momentum of the play seemed to carry over into the second half. Trailing by 6 points, Utah State opened the half one 6-0 run, thanks to a Miller 3-pointer and an and-one layup from Etyle-Rock.

"Our defense kind of helped us and allowed us to, going into halftime, have a little bit of momentum," Odom said.

Eventually, the performance of Moore and the talent of the Rams overruled the momentum.

"Aside from (losing), it was definitely a special night here," Etyle-Rock said. "The fans were great. I was glad my mom was here. That was a very special moment. All the guys were happy to celebrate us seniors. It was very special."

Bean added that it was also a great opportunity to highlight Shulga, who played for eight minutes and recorded a layup, as he watches what goes on in his native country.

"Max is an incredible person," Bean said. "His family, obviously, he's thinking of them. He's kind of updating us on how they're doing and he's more positive than others would think with what he's going through. … I thought everyone tonight supporting him and praying for the country — it was just cool to see that collective unity from the city and the community."

Utah State (16-14, 7-10) closes out the regular season at San Jose State Friday before the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas the week after.

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