HONOLULU (ABC4 Sports) – For the first time this season, Utah State’s men’s basketball team was held to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, which spelled doom for the Aggies.
Behind a defense that only allowed Utah State to connect on 37.5 percent of its shots, while forcing 13 turnovers in the process, SMU held off the Aggies 77-74 in the semifinals of the 2022 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on Friday night at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Utah State opened the tournament with an 84-56 win over Seattle on Thursday. But now after beginning the year with a school-tying nine straight wins, the Aggies have dropped two of its last three games.
The Aggies (10-2) shot just 30.6 percent (11-of-36) from the field in the first half as they found themselves down 40-32 at intermission. SMU (5-7) led by as many as 12 during the first 20 minutes of play.
Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga each scored 18 points to lead Utah State, while Steven Ashworth chipped in 15 points.
Zhuric Phelps paced five Mustangs in double-figure scoring with a game-high 19 points. Sam Williamson finished with 15 points, Zach Nutall had 13, Efe Odigie chipped in 12 and Stef Todorovic chipped in 10 off the bench.
Shulga opened the game’s scoring with a 3-pointer and the Aggies led 5-2 before the Mustangs went on a 7-0 run to move in front. Utah State would not lead again the rest of the way.
Down by nine with 6:26 remaining in the second half, the Aggies used an 8-0 run to pull within one with 4:39 left. They also trailed by one with 3:19 to go, but could never get over the hump and regain the lead.
Utah State made 24 of its 64 shots from the field, including 10-of-36 from 3-point range (27.8 percent), and 16-of-18 from the free throw line (88.9 percent). Shulga led the Aggies with four assists and Trevin Dorius grabbed a team-best nine rebounds.
SMU shot 48.3 percent from the field (29-of-60), including 33.3 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-12), and 88.2 percent from the charity stripe (15-of-17).
The Aggies conclude the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day when they take on tonight’s winner of the Washington State vs. Hawai’i game at 4:30 p.m. (MT).