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Utah State mounts comeback, ekes out win over San Jose State

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LOGAN β€” It required near offensive perfection, but in front of the largest home crowd of the season, Utah State eked out its fifth conference win on Saturday afternoon.

Trailing San Jose State the majority of the game, the Aggies tracked down a double digit second half lead by shooting 63% from the field and got 16 second half points from Steven Ashworth.

Max Shulga hit a go-ahead free throw with five seconds left to play, Alvara Cardenas' 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer, and Utah State survived for a dramatic 75-74 win.

For the brunt of the afternoon, the game was in San Jose State's control. The Spartans outrebounded the Aggies 33-27 and scored 20 second-chance points, while shooting 46% from 3-point range. To atone for a dismal first half, where the Aggies shot just 20% from 3-point range and trailed by seven at halftime, it required 45 second half points and eight made 3s.

"It was just all in all a really gutsy win for our team," Utah State head coach Ryan Odom said.

Trailing by 10 points in the second half, Utah State mustered a handful of runs, all of which were answered by a Spartans offense that forced mismatches on screens and kept the Aggies half court defense scrambling.

Guards Tibet Gorener and Cardenas finished a combined 10-of-16 from beyond the arc, while Omari Moore added 16 points, and the visitors led the Aggies 70-64 with 4:42 remaining.

But some timely buckets, key defensive stops, and perhaps a tinge of Spectrum Magic generated by the 8,895 fans was enough to come back in the game and steal the win.

Shulga and Ashworth had back-to-back layups, then Ashworth found Taylor Funk in the corner for a 3-pointer to narrow the deficit to one. San Jose State grabbed four offensive rebounds on the subsequent possession before Ashworth reeled in a board. On the other end, the 6-foot-1 guard curled off a screen and hoisted a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:44 remaining.

"So many big plays," Odom said. "I'm not even going to go back through them."

Tied at 74-74, the Aggies forced Moore into a turnover with 28 seconds left to play; and out of a timeout, Akin set a screen for Shulga, who drove into the paint, shifted to his left, and forced a shooting foul with five seconds remaining. Shulga missed the first free-throw attempt off the back iron, then hit the second to give the Aggies a 1-point lead.

"Naturally, you start thinking like, 'No way I just missed it,'" Shulga said. "But you just try to dismiss those thoughts and trust your follow through, your shot, and just stay in the moment."

Shulga finished the game with 15 points and Ashworth had 19 points β€” his offensive explosion changed the game.

In the first half, Moore kept Ashworth from clean looks and held him to just 3 points on five attempts. In the second half, the Aggies rebounded better, which helped them exploit the Spartans in transition, and Ashworth hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the open court to give the hosts the first real ounce of momentum in the second half.

And then the team stayed hot until the end.

"It's hard to stop Steven for a full game, like, he just gets loose," Odom said. "He's determined, right? He's gonna find a way to get away from you. And because he doesn't tire, it takes a lot of focus and determination to stay attached to him."

"We couldn't get Ashworth under control," San Jose State coach Tim Miles said. "He's a heady player and he does a lot of good things. It was certainly very disappointing to control the game for a long time β€” most of the night β€” and not come out with the win."

The Aggies are now 5-2 in Mountain West play and riding a two-game win streak as the team preps for a California road trip next week where it will face San Diego State and Fresno State.

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