LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Three days after blowing an 18-point lead in the final four minutes against Boise State, Utah State bounced back nicely with a dominating 72-47 victory over Air Force Tuesday night at The Spectrum.
Justin Bean recorded his 12th double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Sam Merrill chipped in with 15 points, as the Aggies avenged a 19-point loss to the Falcons two weeks ago in Colorado Springs.
Neemias Queta scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half for the Aggies.
“It was a good bounce-back win in a lot of ways from a tough loss the other night and after our difficult loss to them,’ said head coach Craig Smith. “I thought our guys played great.”
“It was a great response from us, collectively, as a team after an extremely disappointing finish on Saturday night,” added Merrill. “We played so well for 36 minutes on Saturday and our goal was to play a 40-minute game and play Aggie basketball the whole way. I thought we did that tonight.”
Utah State (15-6, 4-4 Mountain West Conference) raced to a 7-0 lead, extended the margin to 17-7 before the Falcons closed within three (20-17) with a 10-3 run. The Aggies countered by scoring nine straight and led by double digits the rest of the way.
The Aggies defense held Air Force to a season low in points, and to just 29.4 percent shooting from the field. The Falcons made just 3 of 19 three-point attempts. The 25-point loss is the largest margin of defeat for Air Force this season.
“Coach Smith always says the toughest team wins,” Bean said. “We knew that even though we would make mistakes, their Princeton offense is very efficient, but we did a really good job of playing hard and being mindful of who we were guarding.”
After Utah State opened a 10-point lead with 11:42 to go in the first half, Air Force pared the deficit to 20-17 on back-to-back free throws by Sid Tomes, following a technical foul called on USU head coach Craig Smith, and a layup by Swan with 5:41 left. That’s as close as the Falcons would get the rest of the way.
The Aggies ended the half on a 12-4 run to open a 32-21 lead at the break. Bean and Merrill combined for seven of those points.
Utah State’s cushion ballooned to as many as 27 points in the second half.
USU shot 41.0 percent from the field on the night (25-of-61), including 32.1 percent from 3-point range (9-of-28), and 81.3 percent from the free throw line (13-of-16). The Aggies outrebounded the Falcons 45-34 and scored 16 points off of 13 turnovers.
Utah State next hosts Colorado State Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.