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Utah State folds late, drops key resume-building opportunity at Nevada

Utah State guard Sean Bairstow (2) brings the ball up court against Colorado State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fort Collins, Colo. Colorado State beat Utah State 77-72.

Utah State guard Sean Bairstow (2) brings the ball up court against Colorado State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fort Collins, Colo. Colorado State beat Utah State 77-72. (Jack Dempsey, Associated Press)


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LOGAN β€” Bleeding into last season, there's been a growing theory regarding Utah State in Mountain West play.

The Aggies are seen as a veteran-laded and talented offensive group that's loved by the analytics and well respected, but the team struggles on the road against high level conference opponents.

Ryan Odom's squad had a chance on Friday night at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nevada, to buck that trend as it attempted to pick up the first Quad 1 conference road win in six tries over the past two seasons.

Facing a fellow NCAA Tournament hopeful in Nevada, the Aggies matched the Wolf Pack shot for shot, blow for blow; and for 32 minutes of action, Utah State clung to a 64-62 lead with 8:58 left to play. Eyeing the first Quad 1 win of the season straight in the eye, Utah State folded.

Led by center Will Baker, who, for a moment, transformed into a thicker version of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Wolf Pack took over and went on a 19-0 run in the final minutes of action to defeat the Aggies 85-70.

It was another road collapse, another missed opportunity in fashion that will certainly leave the doubters feeling vaunted.

"I think the composure at the end wasn't where it needed to be, and the execution and discipline wasn't where we needed it to be in order to win a really hard game," Odom said.

For most of the game, the execution and discipline was there. The Aggies spread the court and took care of the ball, knocked down 3-pointers at a 50% rate, and won the rebounding battle. All five starters even finished the game in double digits.

But when center Trevin Dorius fouled out of the game with 7:42 remaining, everything seemed to change.

The Aggies suddenly dropped its physicality and began giving up second-chance baskets, all while committing silly fouls. The Aggies had no answers to contain Baker, who's hook shots and 3-pointers spurned the run to electrify the home team crowd.

An Aggies offense that was humming along suddenly devolved into a hodge podge of contested jumpers and ill-advised shots at the rim. The visitors missed eight straight shots and failed to score on 10 straight possessions. The Wolf Pack responded by scoring on eight of their 10 possessions, and led 81-64 with 2:19 to play.

By the time the game concluded, Kenan Blackshear had 28 points, Baker had 24 points and Jarod Lucas had 21 points.

"It's a big boy game," Odom said. "We talked about it in timeouts, and they started getting really physical, and they did a good job of being physical without fouling. We didn't respond as well as we needed to."

As the Aggies fly back home across the Great Basin empty handed, the 10-point first half lead and 9-point second half Utah State engineered feel like a mirage in the desert.

Taylor draining three first half 3-pointers and finished with 13 points. Steven Ashworth hit a couple 3-pointers and finished with 15 points. Max Shulga, Sean Bairstow and Trevin Dorius all had 11 points apiece.

The Aggies controlled the fast-paced tempo and an early lead in the first half, and later a 46-37 lead early in the second half. The lead faded quicker than a Randy McCall whistle, and Utah State fell to 3-2 in conference play as it still looks for a marquee victory this season.

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