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LOGAN — Tied up with 2:57 remaining in Utah State's Tuesday night matchup against Oral Roberts, the Aggies' undefeated start to the year was in jeopardy.
A 14-point lead had eroded as the Golden Eagles and 7-foot-5 forward Connor Vanover gave the Aggies' dribble-drive offense serious fits, and Oral Roberts' offense had turned it on. Utah State coach Ryan Odom called a timeout and switched to a small-ball lineup in hopes to spread out the court and go on an end-game surge.
Thanks to Steven Ashworth, the adjustment worked.
Ashworth buried a 3-pointer on a pass from Rylan Jones and then drilled a free-throw attempt off a flop technical to give the Aggies a 4-point lead. Zee Hamoda recorded a block, and Ashworth pulled up from 28 feet to hit another 3-pointer on the subsequent possession to send a crowd of 5,980 into a frenzy.
Just like that, it was a 10-0 run by Ashworth to give Utah State an 87-77 lead with 1:15 left in regulation. He finish the game 9-of-11 from the field, which included eight made 3-pointers, for a career-high 30 points, and Utah State defeated Oral Roberts 95-85 to improve to 5-0 on the season.
"Yeah, he's a killer. I've never seen anybody shoot like that in my life," guard Max Shulga said. "It's a show every time he's out there. He's like Steph Curry."
"Honestly, it just kind of happened," Ashworth said. "We were really talking in that timeout about our execution and making sure that we get things right. We called that timeout for that specific reason."
On a night when the student section was over half empty due to the holiday break, Utah State didn't play its best basketball. The Aggies turned the ball over 19 times and struggled to contain Oral Roberts' balanced offensive attack that hit 14 3-pointers.
The Aggies needed every bit of offensive production to get by.
To complement Ashworth, Taylor Funk was 6-of-8 from deep for 18 points; Shulga had a near triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists; and Jones had 10 points and seven assists in the win. As a team, the Aggies made 19 shots on 61.3% shooting from 3-point range, and finished the night 51.8% from the field.
"I can't believe that was from one team," Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said of the Aggies' high 3-point shooting percentage.
"Old fashioned shootout," Odom added. "I mean, that was incredible, wasn't it?"
It's tough to imagine a better start to the season for the Aggies. Utah State sits at 49th in KenPom rankings and have five wins over top 150-ranked teams.
Oral Roberts nearly derailed the perfect start, though. Issac McBride finished with 19 points, Vanover had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Max Abmas had 17 points in the losing effort. Similar to the Aggies, the Golden Eagles were a balanced team that could score from every player on the court.
"It's just awkward when you're playing a team like that, that spreads you out," Odom said.
The Aggies lept out to a 43-29 lead with 3:19 left in the first half, backed by 12 first-half points from Funk and 11 points from Ashworth. Oral Roberts went on an 11-6 run to closeout the half to stay in the game. And then in the second half, McBride and Abmas combined for 21 points as the team shot 47% from the field to claw back into the game.
Late in the game, the Aggies controlled an 8-point lead and then went into a three-minute scoring drought. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, capped off an 8-0 run during that stretch with a pair of free throws from Carlos Jurgens.
Odom called a timeout, and Ashworth went on his unforgettable scoring run.
"What I'm most proud of is that it ended being a one-possession game — it didn't finish as a one-possession game," Odom said. "It was down to a tie game with two-and-a-half minutes or whatever it was, we had to figure out are we going to be able to score or are we going to be able to get the stops that we need. Our guys stepped up."
"That's the beauty of this team is that we can look to go to any single guy at any moment," Ashworth said. "And we know that an individual is going to be ready to knock down the shot. And tonight, luckily, it was myself."
The Aggies have a week off before hosting Utah Tech on Thursday, Dec. 1.