FRESNO, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – Utah State may be just a win or two away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies helped its cause, winning a defensive battle at Fresno State in its regular season finale Saturday night, 57-51, as Neemias Queta and Justin Bean each recorded double-doubles again. For Queta, it was his sixth in a row, while for Bean, his fourth straight.
Bean had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Queta added 13 points and 11 boards, as the Aggies clinched the 2-seed for the third consecutive year in next week’s Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The Aggies will take on either UNLV or Air Force on Thursday in Las Vegas at 7:00 p.m. Utah State has won the MWC Tournament in each of the last two seasons.
“You know how the saying goes, I think it was pretty applicable tonight, it’s not how you start it’s how you finish,” said Bean. “Very cliché, but that is literally what’s going through all our minds right now, quite frankly. It was hard fought, just a gut check.”
The Aggies went into the half down by 10 points at Fresno State, scoring a season-low 17 points over the opening 20 minutes. But, Utah State had been there before, scoring a then-season-low 22 points against San Diego State and trailing by 10 at the half on Jan. 16, only to come back and post a 57-45 victory over the Aztecs. USU matched the 57 points on Saturday night, scoring 40 points over the final 20 minutes to post a 57-51 victory over the Bulldogs in the 2020-21 regular season finale.
“Big W for the Aggies,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Obviously a terrible start, we had eight points in the first 12-and-a-half minutes, I thought we were just not very tough at the rim and just out of rhythm. Give them credit for what they did. Obviously we didn’t have Brock (Miller) out there, a veteran guard, then we had three true freshmen out there. I need to be better for them, but I give our guys a lot of credit. We were really good defensively all night long in both halves. We didn’t let our lack of offense dictate our energy on the defensive end.”
Alphonso Anderson joined the duo in double figures, finishing with 11 points and knocking down a 3-point bucket with 1:34 on the clock to give the Aggies the lead for good.
Utah State couldn’t find an offensive groove in the first half, shooting 25.0 percent (6-of-24) from the floor and 14.3 percent (1-of-7) from behind the 3-point line. USU also had eight turnovers over the opening 20 minutes and were minus-2 on the boards as Fresno State took a 27-17 advantage into the half.
It was a different story in the second half as Utah State opened the final stanza on an 11-2 run, capped by a 3-ball by Rollie Worster, to trim the 10-point halftime deficit to one, 29-28, after the first five minutes. Another triple by Steven Ashworth with 9:54 on the clock put USU up 40-39 and gave the Aggies their first lead since the 16:47 mark in the first half.
The game was back-and-forth for the rest of the second half until Anderson’s 3-point bucket with 1:34 on the clock gave the Aggies a 50-48 lead and an advantage that wouldn’t be relinquished. Free throws by Anderson, Worster and Queta over the final 20 seconds of the game wrapped up the 57-51 victory for the Aggies.
Utah State flipped the switch offensive in the second half, shooting 53.6 percent (15-of-28) from the floor and 62.5 percent (5-of-8) from behind the 3-point line to finish the game shooting 40.4 percent (21-of-52) from the floor, 40.0 percent (6-of-15) from the 3-point line and 56.3 percent (9-of-16) at the charity stripe.
“Obviously the start of the second half was big going on that 11-2 run,” Smith said. “They called that timeout, then it was just kind of a slug fest the rest of the way. We made a lot of plays down the stretch, specifically on the offensive glass.”
Fresno State was led in scoring by Isaiah Hill with a game-high 16 points, while Orlando Robinson logged a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Bulldogs finished the game shooting 34.6 percent (18-of-52) from the floor, 31.8 percent (7-of-22) from behind the 3-point line and 88.9 percent (8-of-9) at the free throw line.
Utah State concludes the regular season with a record of 18-7, 15-4 in the Mountain West Conference.