LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – Taylor Funk poured in a season-high 32 points to lead Utah State to a 91-76 victory over New Mexico in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals.
The Aggies will take on Boise State Friday night for the right to play in the championship game.
With the win over the Lobos, Utah State (25-7) has won six in a row, and is in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome against the Broncos.
“Really proud of our guys,” said USU head coach Ryan Odom. “It was a big-time college basketball game. Taylor and his teammates did a great job today in this particular game of focusing on the task at hand, trying to defend at a high level, and certainly on certain possessions we came up short, but for the most part our guys did a really nice job.”
Funk scored Utah State’s first 16 points of the game and had 21 of his 32 points in the first half. He made 10 of 16 shots from the field, including 6 of 10 from three-point range.
“Nothing is easy out here, especially in this conference,” Funk said. It’s a really good conference. It’s a battle. I’m not sure of the rebounding stats here, but, you know, they’re a big team, big aggressive team. You know, they make us work on every single possession. We really talk about every possession matters offense and defense, and I think our guys really took that to heart and really took advantage of our opportunity today.”
Steven Ashworth poured in 22 points, while Dan Akin led the Aggies off the bench with 17.
Utah State came into the game as the nation’s third best three-point shooting team, and sure looked like it, making 12 of 24 shots from beyond the arc. By contrast, New Mexico made just 2 of 10 shots from beyond the arc.
Utah State took the lead with 19:16 left in the first half and did not relinquish it. Funk led his team in scoring with 21 points in the first half to help put them up 44-33 at the break.
The Aggies built a 44-33 lead at the half, and increased the lead to 18 on a three-pointer by Max Shulga with 8:45 to play. Shulga finished with 12 points and five assists.
The Lobos got within eight points with six minutes left, but the Aggies went on a 14-6 run over the next five minutes to pull away for the victory.
For the game, Utah State shot 48.4 percent from the field.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. led New Mexico with 20 points.
Utah State has now won seven straight games and 10 of the last 11 in the series against New Mexico. The 91 points ties a Mountain West Tournament high for the Aggies.
Utah State and Boise State will play at 10:00 p.m. Friday night. The teams split their regular season meetings with each team winning on the other’s home court.
“Yeah, obviously we know it’s going to be a battle, so I think we’re well-prepared,” Akin said about the Broncos. “We just played them a few days ago so we know the game plan. Obviously we can tweak it a little bit. But, yeah, I think we’re ready for them, and they’re ready for us.”
Top-seeded San Diego State and San Jose State will face off in the other semifinal Friday.