MORAGA, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – Justin Bean poured in a career-high 24 points and grabbed a team-best nine rebounds, but the No. 15 Utah State men’s basketball team lost its first game of the season, 81-73 to Saint Mary’s on Friday night at McKeon Pavilion.
Sam Merrill added 23 points to lead the Aggies (7-1), who were off to their best start since winning their first eight games in 1961-62.
Jordan Ford powered the Gaels past the Aggies, scoring 22 of his 27 points in the second half and helping spark an 11-0 run that helped Saint Mary’s erase a four-point deficit late in the game.
The victory was Saint Mary’s first home win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 21 Gonzaga on Jan. 12, 2012. The Gaels also hadn’t beaten a top-15 team at home since upsetting Oregon on Nov. 20, 2007.
Though played in late November, the non-conference affair had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game with 13 ties and 23 lead changes. Utah State opened a 65-61 lead with 4:25 to go following a layup by Merrill and a pair of free throws by Bean.
That’s when Ford took over, knocking down a 3-pointer with 4:02 on the clock, followed by a nifty pass to Malik Fitts for a dunk that put the Gaels up 66-65 with 3:29 to play.
Bean answered with two free throws to put Utah State back up before back-to-back 3s from Ford and Tanner Krebs sparked the 11-0 run that put the game away. Fitts finished with 21 points and Matthias Tass added 15 for Saint Mary’s.
The Aggies held the Gaels nearly six minutes without a basket in the first half before Saint Mary’s made five straight from the field to open a 32-28 lead with 3:21 left until the break.
Sandwiched in between two Merrill 3-pointers was a dunk by Trevin Dorius that gave Utah State a 36-34 lead at halftime.
The Aggies shot 44.8 percent from the field (26-of-58), including 35.0 percent from 3-point range (7-of-20), and 82.4 percent from the free throw line (14-of-17). Abel Porter had seven of Utah State’s 11 assists on the night.
Saint Mary’s shot 51.8 percent from the field (29-of-56), including 42.1 percent from beyond the arc (8-of-19), and 71.4 percent from the charity stripe (15-of-21). The Gaels outrebounded the Aggies, who were still without the services of sophomore center Neemias Queta, 33-31.
Junior center Kuba Karwowski also missed the game for Utah State.
Utah State opens Mountain West play on Wednesday, Dec. 4, when the Aggies travel to San Jose, Calif., to take on San Jose State.