Records can be deceiving.
That has been stressed over and over since Friday by Utah State men’s head basketball coach Craig Smith. He does not want his Aggies to even think the next game is going to be easy.
No. 17 Utah State (4-0) hosts UTSA (0-4) Monday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for the final game of this season-opening homestand. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
“I think we are going to find out a whole lot about our team tomorrow,” Smith said Sunday afternoon after the team practiced. “Besides our non D-1 games, the easiest part of our schedule is over now. We are going to get into some heavy hitters. UTSA is a very talented team and a very dangerous team. Don’t let their record fool you. There is no doubt starting tomorrow it is going to get a whole lot more difficult in a real hurry.”
The coach likes how his team has practiced the past two days in preparation for the Roadrunners, who were picked to finish second in Conference USA.
UTSA has yet to play a home game this season and have had a week to prepare for USU. The Roadrunners have also failed to covert many 3-pointers, but not for a lack of trying. Going into the weekend, they led the country in 3-point field goal attempts, but only made 29 percent. Smith is aware of how good they can be and doesn’t want them to start making long-range shots on Monday.
“They really are the Roadrunners and love to get up and down the floor; they fly around on both sides of the ball,” Smith said. “They are going to rebound and run and just push the tempo like crazy. ... They love to crank them (3-pointers) up, but haven’t shot real well to this point. You know they are much better than their numbers are showing right now. Our job is to not let them start making them tomorrow night.”
Getting special attention from the Aggie defense will be UTSA guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace. They led the nation a year ago as the to scoring backcourt, averaging a combined 43.1 points a game. So far this season, the junior are combining for 39.6. Jackson leads the way with 25.8 points per game, while Wallace nets 13.8.
“Those guys put a ton of pressure on you because they can do about anything and everything with the ball,” Smith said of Jackson and Wallace. “They can score it at all three levels. ... We are going to have to be on point with our stuff. They can really get it going and have the freedom to shoot any time.”
Trying to simulate the Roadrunner duo in practice has been Marco Anthony and Carson Bischoff. Smith felt the Aggie guards who are redshirting this season gave the starters a “good look today.” He said Anthony and Bischoff were “really having fun.”
Other than Jackson and Wallace, not Roadrunner is even close to double-figure scoring for the season. However Knox Hellums came off the bench and scored 15 in their last outing against Delaware.
The 6-foot Jackson also leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 per contest, while forward Byron Frohnen grabs 6.7.
“They (Roadrunners) are going come out and play super aggressive,” Smith said. “We need get better at handling the ball. The other night we had 15 turnovers, and some were really foolish turnovers. That’ll be a major point of emphasis for us.”
Despite the 15 turnovers last Friday night, the Aggies rolled past North Carolina A&T, 81-54. In fact, USU is winning by an average margin of 32.8. The Aggies are also owning the boards, outrebounding opponents by 15.8.
Four Aggies are averaging double digits in scoring in Sam Merrill (16.5), Justin Bean (14.3), Brock Miller (13.8) and Alphonso Anderson (13.3). Diogo Brito is close with 9.5 points a game. Anderson and Brito come off the bench and have helped the USU reserves outscore the first four opponents by a count of 132 to 67.
Bean leads the Aggies in rebounding with 11.0, while Anderson (5.5) and Merrill (5.0) are next. Abel Porter is dishing out 5.0 assists a game, while Merrill is at 4.8.
Monday will be the last home game in more than two weeks. Aggie fans won’t get to see the team live again until Dec. 7, unless they are traveling to Jamaica or California.
“I like our mindset and I think we are getting better,” Smith said. “I think it is easy to see certain guys especially getting better.”