LAS VEGAS (ABC 4 Sports) – Shane Rector scored a career-high 24 points, while Jalen Moore scored 19 points, pulled down nine rebounds and dished out five assists to help ninth-seeded Utah State beat No. 8 seed Wyoming 88-70 Wednesday in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Chris Smith added 20 points, including four three-pointers, and Julion Pearre scored 14 for Utah State, which will face top-seeded San Diego State (23-8) in the quarterfinals Thursday.
“Really, really proud of my guys and pleased with the performance,” said head coach Tim Duryea. “I thought they came out from the get-go, really shared the ball well. I was really proud that we came out and executed well against the zone because it’s been a while since we’ve seen much zone defense, and thought our guys really moved the ball, made the extra pass and then when they had a chance jumped up and knocked shots down.”
The Aggies (16-14) scored the first eight points, before back-to-back 3-pointers by Rector and Smith gave the Aggies their biggest lead, 41-16, with 6:28 left in the first half.
“They told us all year long we were better than what our record said,” Rector said. “Coming in we were really confident and we knew what we had to do to get the win. And I think we did that tonight.”
Utah State shot 57.6 percent from the field, including 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range, in the first half and took a 47-30 lead into the break.
Jason McManamen scored seven points during an 11-0 run by Wyoming (14-18), before five-consecutive points by Alan Herndon trimmed the Cowboys’ deficit to 63-56 with 9:46 left, but they would get no closer.
Moore and Rector hit some clutch baskets down the stretch to help the Aggies hold on.
“We couldn’t get anything going for a little bit of a span on offense,” said Moore. “I was just trying to take the team over and hit the shots that we needed to. And I was able to do that and I just couldn’t let our team lose this game. We’ve been in too many games like this where we had the lead and at the end we ended up losing. I couldn’t let that happen again.”
McManamen led Wyoming with 23 points.
Utah State has never beaten San Diego State since joining the Mountain West Conference.
“It should be a fun game,” said Moore. “They play hard. They play good. As long as we are patient on offense and make them have to guard us a little bit. And like I said, don’t turn the ball over, I think it should be a close game.”