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Utah State handles shorthanded Wyoming squad in 20-point win

Utah State guard Sean Bairstow slams dunks the ball in a game against Wyoming in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 10, 2023.

Utah State guard Sean Bairstow slams dunks the ball in a game against Wyoming in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 10, 2023. (Joseph F. Myers, USU Athletics)

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LOGAN โ€” Reeling from a lopsided defeat at Boise State on Saturday, Utah State needed a strong bounce back.

The answer came against a shorthanded Wyoming squad in the most emphatic way possible.

Utah State laid it on all night in front of a full-capacity student section on Tuesday night in the Spectrum and led by as much as 25 points before sending the visiting Cowboys home in an 83-63 win.

Wyoming was without last year's All-Mountain West big man Graham Ike and two of its three leading scorers Noah Reynolds and Brendan Wenzel, to go along with a handful of other scholarship players. The Cowboys were helpless in stretches, and the Aggies took full advantage.

Taylor Funk finished with a team-high 22 points, Dan Akin had 16 points, Max Shulga added 14 points, and Sean Bairstow also capped it off 14 points, including three roof-raising slam dunks as the Aggies coasted to victory.

Talk about bouncing back.

"I know Wyoming, obviously, is trying to get healthy; they still have good players," Utah State coach Ryan Odom said. "The key to the game for us was our response after Boise State. โ€ฆ (It's) just looking in the mirror and being honest with ourselves about how we played in that particular game and turning that around into an answer."

"Obviously, we took a pounding a couple days ago against Boise," Akin added. "So coming out and making a statement was really nice."

In two days of prep for the Wyoming game, the Aggies' emphasis was to be tougher than it was on Saturday afternoon in Idaho. Facing Wyoming's unique back to the basket, physical offense that centered around Hunter Maldonado, the Aggies delivered on defense.

For most of the game, Utah State kept Maldonado from getting downhill on his front foot and double-teamed him in stretches when he backed into the post. He finished with 20 points, and most of that came in the second half on 7-of-14 shooting.

The Aggies limited Wyoming's open looks and held the 3-point heavy team to just 13 attempts beyond the arc, and held them to 39.1% shooting from the field. Down low in the post, the hosts outrebounded Wyoming 43-34 while outscourcing them 46-34 in points in the paint.

"I just think the guys really prepared for this. They really wanted this one, like any other night," Funk said. "Boise got us for sure, but we were big on physicality tonight. We were lacking that against Boise. So we really wanted to make that a point of emphasis tonight."

On the other end, the Aggies put up a show that kept the 7,890 fans in attendance amped up throughout the game, despite the stormy weather and a late night tipoff. The Aggies shot over 50% from the field and 3-point line and no problems scoring.

It began with the hot hand of Funk, who shot 5-of-6 in 18 points of play in the first half to lift the Aggies to a 16-point halftime lead. Going 4-of-4 from beyond the arc, Funk was the beneficiary of ball movement from Steven Ashworth and Shulga, who finished with seven and six assists respectively, and buried his open looks.

"The shot felt real good," Funk said. "It's just kind of who we are as a team. The shots come to the open guy, and it's your responsibility to knock them down."

After just 6 first-half points, Maldonado got a pair of buckets to cut Utah State's lead to 8 points early in the second half. The Aggies then went on a 12-2 run to shut the door.

The Aggies rebounded missed shots and found space in transition to get a flurry of easy buckets, which capped off a wide-open corner 3-pointer by Shulga to go up 54-36 with 15:34 to play. The Aggies padded the lead with a 9-0 run to go up 75-50 with 4:51 left.

In the waning moments, Bairstow capped it all off with a one-handed jam between two defenders for his third dunk of the evening.

"It gets everybody excited. I mean, you'd rather that than the layup," Odom said. "We love the 3s, too, but when Sean goes down and hammers, I mean, that's a big-time play."

The Aggies improve to 3-1 in conference play and travel to Reno to face Nevada on Friday.

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