There were no post-game shenanigans Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
There was no need or reason for it.
Utah State grabbed the lead right from the opening tip against Nevada in Mountain West men’s basketball action and never gave it up. The Aggies halted a three-game skid with a 80-70 win over the Wolf Pack in front of 8,725 fans who braved snowy conditions to nearly pack the Spectrum.
“Good win for the Aggies,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “It feels good to get back on track. I thought we had a great team effort. We played very connected on offense and defense.”
In the only meeting between these two teams during the regular season, it was mostly all Aggies (14-5, 3-3 MW). Utah State owned the battle on the glass, 43-28, in the paint, 36-22, and bench points, 25-15, to name a few. About the only negative for the hosts was more turnovers, but that was close.
“I thought we responded well to another tough loss on Tuesday (at Air Force),” said USU guard Sam Merrill, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “It was a tough week for us the last 10 days or so. We really took what happened on Tuesday night personally. It’s understood that that can’t be who we are. We had two really good days of practice. We had a really good night defensively, that had to be the key. They scored quite a few points there at the end, but I thought we had a good night on the defensive end.”
Having not lost three in a row since Smith took over two seasons ago, the Aggies were determined to bounce back Saturday night. The Wolf Pack (10-7, 3-2), who shared the regular season title with USU last season, just happened to be the next opponent.
“I loved how we played,” Smith said. “We played very, very connected. We had 20 assists on the night. We had a good balance of having an inside game, a middle game and an outside game. A guy like Sam (Merrill) has eight rebounds and eight assists. You have a senior like that that’s willing to get in and do the dirty work. Neemias (Queta) responded well from last week, having 19 on 12 shot attempts, and seven rebounds, including three offensive. Sean Bairstow was a great spark for us in a lot of different facets. We responded in a great way.”
Queta led five USU players in double-figure scoring with 19. He seemed much more aggressive than the past few games.
“He (Queta) will admit he didn’t have his best game on Tuesday (at Air Force),” Merrill said. “He took that personal. I thought he had a great game. As he gets into game shape, he is going to get back to who he is.”
Joining Merrill and Queta in double-digit scoring were Diogo Brito (12), Brock Miller (11) and Abel Porter (10).
“It was a really good team win,” said Aggie guard Sean Bairstow, who came off the bench to score eight points and dish out three assists. “We needed to bounce back and we all played pretty well together.”
The Wolf Pack was led by Jalen Harris with a game-high 31 points. Jazz Johnson got hot in the second half and added 18 points.
“That’s an explosive team and the leading scoring team in Mountain West play,” Smith said of Nevada. “We had them at 46 with five minutes to go, then they showed what they can do. Some of that we probably semi-relaxed, but they made some tough plays too. For us to do what we did in the first 35 minutes was big time.”
The Aggies hit a pair of 3-pointers to begin the game, but then buckets were hard to come by for both teams. Nine minutes into the game USU held a 11-6 lead, but the two teams had combined to shoot 6 of 31 from the field.
That quickly changed as the Aggies had back-to-back dunks to spark a 11-0 run. The Wolf Pack went nearly four minutes without scoring. Queta got aggressive and had seven points during the surge as USU took a 20-6 lead with nine minutes left in the opening half.
Porter gave the hosts their largest lead of the first half, 24-8, with a drive to the hoop for a layup at the 7:49 mark.
“I think it’s ingrained that we’ve got to bring it every night, especially in conference games,” Merrill said. “... We know we have to continue to get better.”
Harris heated up for Nevada, scoring eight straight points as part of 10 unanswered by the visitors. Back-to-back treys by Harris pulled the Wolf Pack to within 24-18 with 5:14 left in the first half. Nevada would get no closer the rest of the way.
After going nearly four minutes without scoring, the Aggies got four free throws from Merrill, and buckets by Bairstow and Brito to expand the lead back to double digits.
Nevada scored the final five points of the first half as USU took a 32-23 lead into the break.
The teams traded buckets to start the second half before Queta scored back-to-back baskets. Porter hit a 3-pointer with 10:10 to play, giving the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 54-36.
Nevada hit four 3-pointers in the final two minutes to make the final score closer.
“What a great team win,” Smith said. “I thought our guys made a lot of winning plays. We never refer to those things as little things, they are winning plays. You go right down the lineup of guys that did that. Abel Porter played with something to prove and played on attack, making a lot of winning plays on both ends of the floor. It’s good to get back on track, it was a great crowd again tonight in the Spectrum.”
The Aggies started the day at No. 80 in the NET rankings, while the Wolf Pack were at No. 95. … Former USU head coach Kohn Smith was at Saturday’s game, sitting right behind the Nevada bench with some members of his family. Smith was an assistant coach at Indiana when Wolf Pack head coach Steve Alford was a player for the Hoosiers . … The Aggies improved to 9-0 this year and 25-2 under Smith when scoring at least 80 points. … USU is 13-1 this season when it outrebounds an opponent and when its bench out scores the other team. ... Merrill had his 93rd 10-point game, moving into a tie with Kendall Youngblood for fourth on the career list. Merrill played in his 116th game at USU, moving into a tie with Reid Newey for 14th on the career list. He also moved up on the career minutes played list, passing Jalen Moore (3,815) and into fifth with 3,827. .. Porter tied his season high with five rebounds. … Justin Bean has been dealing with some injuries and was in foul trouble early Saturday as he ended up playing just eight minutes, hitting his second 3-pointer of the season and grabbing four rebounds. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Wolf Pack, 37-23.
Several worthy candidates, but Merrill gets the nod. The senior flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, a game-best eight rebounds and a game-high eight assists. He only put up seven shots, making two, but hit all six of his free throw attempts. The guard also blocked a shot and had just one turnover in 38 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
Queta threw one down with power eight-and-a-half minutes into the contest off a nice pass from Alphonso Anderson. Then Anderson took a pass from Bairstow and flushed it.
Queta got the first dunk of the second half, grabbing a pass from Merrill and putting it down five minutes in. Queta added another near the end of the game off a pass from Porter.
Season count: Trevin Dorius 12, Kuba Karawowski 9, Anderson 8, Queta 6, Diogo Brito 5, Bean 5, Bairstow 2, Miller 2, Roche Grootfaam 2.
The Aggies have a week before they play again. They are next in action at Boise State (11-6, 3-2) next Saturday night. The Broncos were at No. 7 San Diego State late Saturday night.