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It’s been nearly a week since the Aggies took to the hardwood in men’s basketball.

Over the next four days they will play three games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational (MBI) in Conway, South Carolina, where it has been sunny and in the 70’s. Utah State (1-1) begins play Thursday at noon, taking on Penn (2-2). The game will be televised on ESPNU.

“It’s fun to be away sometimes and bond,” Aggie head coach Ryan Odom said Wednesday. “It’s fun for all of us to be together, doing everything together. ... Teams can benefit from this from a chemistry perspective.”

The Aggies left last week for the east coast. They played Richmond in a neutral-site game last Friday in Annapolis, Maryland. USU has been practicing and seeing some of the sights.

“I don’t think it (travel) will affect it a ton,” Odom said. “Once you tip the ball up, it’s what happens in between the lines that really matters. For us, it’s an exciting time. It’s (Justin) Bean’s birthday today, so we are going to celebrate that before we go to bed and we’re excited we have him here on our team. He is coming off a great performance against a really good Richmond team.”

Bean scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games this season. In fact, based on season averages, Bean is the top scorer (23.0 points per game) and rebounder (13.0) in the tournament. Aggie guard Rylan Jones is tied for the top man in assists per game (6.0).

Davidson (1-1) and New Mexico State (2-0) will tip off the tournament Thursday morning at 10. After the Quakers and Aggies play, Oklahoma (2-0) takes on East Carolina (3-0) at 5 p.m. Indiana State (2-1) faces Old Dominion (2-1) at 7 p.m. in the final game of the first day of the true tournament.

“We have a challenging opponent for the first game,” Odom said. “I think all of the match-ups are going to be a lot of fun. We’re excited for the opportunity to get on the floor with all of these teams.”

The MBI resumes on Friday with winners playing winners and losers playing losers. The final day of the tournament is Sunday, with the championship at 1 p.m. and televised on ESPN2.

National basketball analyst Joe Lunardi has predicted the Aggies to win the MBI, meeting Oklahoma in the final. Of course that is just a prediction as the games have to be played.

“I think we are getting better, which is the goal early in the season, while remaining competitive,” Odom said. “What you saw in the Richmond game was a more determined, a more urgent team, a team that was more focused on the game plan, giving our best on every play and finding a way. There were some great efforts both individually and collectively. That’s what it’s going to take for this team to be successful over the long haul.”

While the Aggies are enjoying some time away, there is a negative side. Odom would like more consistent practice times, but that is tough when juggling court time for eight teams.

“The trade-off is you are getting to play games against some quality opponents at a neutral site,” Odom said. “We can see where we stack up and go back to it with real practice when we get home.”

The Quakers have been really busy with four games to start the season and another four coming up over a six-day period. They lost to No. 19 Florida State (105-70) and George Mason (87-66) to start the season, but head to South Carolina with a pair of wins, having defeated Bucknell (73-68) and Lafayette (85-57). In their last outing, 17 players saw action.

“They (Quakers) pass the ball well and have veteran guys on their team,” Odom said. “They are led by (Jordan) Dingle. He is a really tough match up. He is top 20 in the country right now in usage. He is finding his shots and finding a way to get up shots. And they have other guys that are playing well. (Jelani) Williams is an excellent point guard with some size (6-foot-5). (Jonah) Charles is an elite 3-point shooter. They have a formidable back court. Their front court has size. ... Our defensive focus has got to be out on the perimeter, taking away easy looks for their primary shooters.”

Dingle is averaging 19.0 points a game, second most among athletes at the MBI. Charles adds 12.8 points an outing, while Clark Slajchert has been coming off the bench to average 10.0 ppg. Williams is the top rebounder at 5.0 and nets 8.5 points an outing, while dishing out 2.0 assists.

The Ivy League was one of the few conferences that canceled athletic competition for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, meaning Penn went 613 days between games.

“Maybe it has something to do with such a long layoff, and it being so many guys’ first college game,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said. “With guys who haven’t played in this environment against a good team, it’s been difficult each possession. Simple things that happen in a game (that) you can’t simulate in practice.”

Odom agrees with Donahue, calling the year without playing “an interesting situation.”

“I know they (Quakers) are eager to play, and they are a confident team after winning two in a row,” Odom said. “They are playing better. We are going to have to play our best to come out with a win.”

Playing three games in four days will test each of the teams. USU used just eight players in the Richmond contest. Getting help from the bench will be vital at the MBI.

“The bench is huge because we need to make sure we are developing a solid bench,” Odom said. “I think roles will evolve as the season goes. ... We want to continue to cultivate and grow that.

“... You are only as strong as your bench. If they can raise the level or at least keep it where it’s at, that’s a positive. Every game takes a life of its own. The guys coming off the bench understand that right now that nothing is set in stone. They need to keep working and when they do get in there, not play out of their sorts, play to our strengths and the way they are coached to play.”

Joining Bean in averaging double figures in scoring for USU is fellow forward Brandon Horvath at 18.5.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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