It wasn’t perfect, but the Aggies certainly did more than enough to extend their winning streak late Wednesday night.
Utah State men’s basketball head coach Craig Smith was “leery” of New Mexico before the game. His team eased his concerns with a 77-45 Mountain West Conference victory at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas, on the campus of Lubbock Christian University. The Lobos are currently playing their home games four-and-a-half hours east of Albuquerque because of restrictions in the state of New Mexico.
“I thought we played very, very well for most of the night,” Smith said. “... We weathered an early storm when they (Lobos) were bombing in threes. We withstood that and made a big run. It’s a good win.”
Rebounding and turnovers were two big keys, and the Aggies (8-3, 5-0 MW) passed those tests with flying colors. USU outrebounded the Lobos (3-4, 0-5), 41-29. New Mexico had 17 turnovers to the Aggies 13.
The Lobos came into the game ranked second in the nation in offensive rebounding with 12.5 an outing. They had nine Wednesday night.
“We were sound on the glass and didn’t give them too many second-chance opportunities,” Smith said. “... They are No. 2 in the country for a reason when it comes to offensive rebounding. A lot starts with your position on defense. You need to understand angles and where they are shooting from. We really stressed team rebounding. Our whole team has got to swarm the glass. As a whole, we did a really good job of that.”
The Aggies used big scoring runs in both halves to enjoy a double-digit lead for most of the game. The win was the seventh in a row for USU, while New Mexico dropped their fifth straight.
“We have been competing at a very high level in practice, and when the games come it is easy to carry over,” said Aggie forward Alphonso Anderson, who came off the bench to score 14 points and grab five rebounds. “Everybody is engaged, and we just work hard.”
Nine USU players scored as 14 saw action in the game. Joining Anderson in double-figure scoring was Neemias Queta with a game-best 18 points on 9 of 10 shooting. Marco Anthony netted 15 and grabbed six rebounds, as did Rollie Worster. Sean Bairstow added nine points off the bench.
“It was a fun one and felt good to get back in the groove,” Anderson said. “Beating any team on the road in conference is good. We played hard.”
“We had a lot of great performances,” Smith said. “It was the best performance by our bench collectively. I thought Alphonso Anderson had a great game. Sean Bairstow played really well. Steven Ashworth gave us great pace. (Trevin) Dorius didn’t play as much because Queta was so good, but I thought he was really good as well.”
Keith McGee was the lone Lobo to reach double digits in points with 10 off the bench. Makuach Maluach and Rod Brown came into the contest combining to score 25.3 points a game. That due combined for just 12 in the loss.
New Mexico shot 26.8 percent from the field for the game and made only 5 of 21 from 3-point range.
“Any time you can hold a team to 26, 27 percent shooting, usually good things happen,” Smith said. “... We did a good job and have made a lot of progress (defensively). We executed well as a whole. We played very connected and our communication was very, very good. We executed our scouting report very well on that end.”
Neither team could find the bottom of the net in the early going. More than three minutes had ticked off the clock before the Aggies broke the stalemate with an Anthony layup.
USU built a 6-2 lead before the Lobos made a trio of 3-pointers during a 9-0 run. New Mexico took an 11-6 lead with 12:52 left to play in the first half.
Then the Aggies heated up. They used a 12-1 run to get in front as Anderson came off the bench to score five points during that stretch. Brock Miller hit a 3-pointer to make it 18-12 with nine minutes to play. Players off the bench sparked USU.
“We practice together every day and when our group is out there, we feel like we have something to prove,” Anderson said. “It carries over to the game.”
After a Lobo trey, USU was off and running again. Queta scored four quick points as the Aggies used a 13-0 run to take charge. Five USU players scored, and Anthony made a driving layup to give the visitors a 31-15 lead. New Mexico went more than five minutes without scoring.
The Aggies finished off the opening half with a 10-1 surge. Over the final 12:50 of the first half, USU outscored the Lobos 35-7. The Aggies took a 41-18 lead into the break.
Justin Bean started the second half with a three-point play. However, the Lobos used a 13-2 run to make things a little interesting for a few minutes. McGee scored to bring the hosts within 46-31 with 13:09 to play.
After just three turnovers in the first half, USU had seven to start the second 20 minutes.
“Normally the start of the second half has been a big strength of ours,” Smith said. “We just turned it over in the first eight minutes.”
New Mexico would get no closer than the 15 but hung around the margin until the Aggies put the game away with a 18-0 run. Anderson scored six straight points early in that surge and converted a three-point play later on.
“I’ve been working on my game every day with the coaches,” Anderson said. “I know when I play hard, I’m capable of some pretty good things. I’ve just got to continue to do that.”
Utah State began the day at No. 87 in the NET rankings, while New Mexico checked in at No. 260. … The Aggies won the rebound battle, 41-29, for the 11th straight game this season and are 60-11 under Smith when that happens. … With four blocked shots Wednesday, Queta has moved past Nate Wickizer and into second all by himself in career blocks with 152. … USU had nine blocked shots as a team as Justin Bean had a season-high three. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Lobos, 28-12.
Aggie has the top two active leaders in double-doubles in the Mountain West. Justin Bean is the current active leader with 20 in his career. Neemias Queta is right behind in second with 17.
Bean has pulled down double figures in rebounds five times this season and ranks eighth in school history with 30 games with at least 10 boards.
Senior Alphonso Anderson gets the nod after his performance off the bench. The forward had a season-high 14 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. He made his lone 3-point attempt. Anderson matched his season best with five rebounds. He also had an assist and blocked a shot in 15 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
Neemias Queta continued his assault on the rim. He drove in for a two-handed slam in the early going of the game. Later in the first half he took an alley-oop pass from Sean Bairstow and threw it down.
The only dunk of the second half came from Bairstow, who drove to the hoop and threw one down.
Season dunk count: Queta 17, Justin Bean 3, Marco Anthony 3, Trevin Dorius 2, Szymon Zapala 2, Alphonso Anderson 1, Bairstow 1.
The Aggies will remain in Lubbock for a few days. They face the Lobos again on Friday to complete the two-game series. Tipoff is at 7 p.m., a change from what was originally set. This game will be televised on FS1.