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LOGAN — In the midst of the bleak grind of finals week, Zee Hamoda decided to bring some pizzazz onto campus.
With Utah State holding a big lead over Westminster in the second half, the sophomore from Bahrain buried back-to-back 3-pointers, then got a steal with an open lane to the basket. Much to the anticipation of the 6,047 fans in attendance, he leaped up, twisted through the air, and threw down a 360-degree slam.
Moments later, Hamoda got another steal, hustled down, hung in the air, and hammered a two-handed dunk. In his closing act, he hit an and-one 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to break the 100-point threshold for the Aggies.
Utah State coasted to a 106-68 win over Westminster in the Spectrum on Thursday night. The win matches the 1938-39 team's record for the best start in program history — the Aggies are 9-0.
#TBT With the win over Westminster, USU ties the best start in program history. Last time @USUBasketball was 9-0— Utah State Alumni (@UtahStateAlumni) December 16, 2022
-Over the rainbow was the #1 song on the radio
-The first helicopter was invented
-Hawaii and Alaska weren't states
📸 1938-1939 USU Men's Basketball pic.twitter.com/qneaWAK3dE
Hamoda finished with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting; and RJ Eytle-Rock and Steven Ashworth had 17 points, Sean Bairstow finished with 16.
Taylor Miller stood out for the Griffins and scored a game-high 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
"I was shocked that I was alone, with nobody coming to block me," Hamoda said about his first dunk. "So I was like, OK, now time to show off. What I should do? So I was thinking about a windmill, 360, or between the leg, and I ended up with a 360.
"It is special, nothing new, just my friends and my teammates and coaches, staff giving me the opportunity to play well," Hamoda said.
Ashworth said he was "really happy" for Hamoda. "He let the game come to him. In the second half, he found open looks and we definitely have the confidence in Zee to hit shots when he's open. And that's what we were able to see tonight."
Beyond his highlight reel dunks, Hamoda finished 6-of-7 from 3-point range and contributed to a program-best 21 made 3-pointers in a game. The Aggies buried 21-of-37 attempts, some of which came in unorthodox ways, including a half-court shot from Max Shulga to beat the first-half buzzer, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Etyle-Rock at the end of regulation to break the record.
The latter was inadvertent since Etyle-Rock meant to shoot it after the buzzer sounded. According to Odom, he apologized to Westminster head coach Norm Parrish for the poor sportsmanship afterward.
"I was just irritated that last one counted," Odom said. "I thought he was trying to shoot it after the clock. And that obviously was not (what happened)."
Beyond the final gaffe, breaking the record was a manifestation of what the Aggies have done this season from beyond the arc. Despite missing shooters Taylor Funk (ankle) and Rylan Jones (concussion), Utah State showed it had numerous guys who can knock down the 3-ball. Ashworth and Etyle-Rock were both 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, Bairstow was 2-of-3 and Max Shulga was 3-of-8.
"We never really set out to break records like that. We really just try to let the game come to us," Ashworth said. "And that's what's great about this team is that you can go out on a night like this and do something like that, which is really special and will probably last for maybe a few more weeks."
Division II Westminster, who was playing its first non-exhibition game against an in-state opponent this season, struggled to defend the 3-point barrage. But the Griffins shot 46% from the field and 96% from the free-throw line. After a jumper from Miller with 6:30 left in the first half, the Griffins clung to a 22-21 lead.
Then it was all Aggies.
The host team went on a 22-12 run to close the half. Then, backed by 23 second-half points from Hamoda and 17 second-half points from Etyle-Rock, Utah State outscored the Griffins 63-37 in the second half.
For Etyle-Rock, who averages nine minutes this season, the second half was an opportunity to lead the offense and increase his in-game shooting reps.
"RJ has taken some of those same shots and other games — certainly last year, he did," Odom said. "It was good for us to see it for him, in particular, to see that ball go in the basket."
And for Hamoda, it was a chance for the underclassman to show off a bit.