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After winning four straight to end the regular season, the Aggie men’s basketball team turns its attention to the Mountain West Tournament.

Utah State will be in action Thursday night in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas at 7 o’clock. The Aggies (18-7) must wait to see who they will play in the quarterfinals. It will be the winner of the UNLV-Air Force game.

The past two years USU has gone to Las Vegas as the second seed and won the tournament. Once again, the Aggies will head south as the second seed. San Diego State (20-4) is the regular season champ.

It was not looking good late last Saturday night for USU in Fresno, California. The Aggies needed a win to finish second in the MW standings. A loss would have dropped USU to third.

“We were happy to get the win and looking forward to March Madness,” USU head coach Craig Smith said, after the Aggies’ 57-51 win. “... We figured it out, and that’s what good teams do. It keeps our mojo going as we head into a wide-open Mountain West Tournament.”

The first 20 minutes against Fresno State (11-11) may have been the ugliest of the season for the Aggies. They scored a measly 17 points, shooting 25 percent from the field.

“That was probably the worst offensive half of the year for us,” said USU forward Justin Bean, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds. “It wasn’t pretty. We were in our heads to much. Every game is a must win, but especially tonight. We really wanted the two seed and go into the tournament with a win. ... Coach Smith was super calm and super poised and told us to turn it around in the second half. That really helped us settle in.”

As bad as it seemed, USU found itself down just 10 points to the Bulldogs.

“We were just sloppy in the first half with unforced turnovers,” Smith said. “Our spacing was bad on offense. Our guys were trying to do the right things, but we had no purpose. ... We were playing hard, just not smart.”

The halftime deficit was nearly erased in the first 2:30 of the second half. Alphonso Anderson scored twice, and Bean made two layups off passes from Anderson and Rollie Worster as the Aggies scored eight quick points.

“Starting the second half like that was key,” Smith said. “... We had eight offensive rebounds in the second half and 12 assists. We got back to who we are. We score 40 in the second half just to get to 57, kind of amazing.”

Two minutes later, USU got within a point on a 3-pointer from Worster.

It would take just over 10 minutes for the Aggies to take their first lead since 4-3 in the early going of the contest. Steven Ashworth drilled a 3-pointer to give USU a 40-39 lead. The Aggies could have added to it, but missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities.

There were seven lead changes over an eight-minute span. USU seized control with its second 8-0 run. After a Neemias Queta bucket, Anderson and Worster both hit big 3-pointers. Anderson’s trey came as the shot clock was about to expire.

“Fonz and Rollie had huge buckets down the stretch,” Bean said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the guys with this momentum going forward into the tournament.”

Fresno State made just one field goal in the final four minutes, as USU escaped with the win.

“It was a hard-fought game, a gut check,” Bean said. “A lot of guys did a lot of good things in crunch time when it really mattered.”

Joining Bean in double-figure scoring was Queta (13) and Anderson (11). Worster was just short with nine. Queta also had 11 rebounds and blocked four shots. Marco Anthony had a team-best four assists and once again played stiff defense on a normally high-scoring guard.

While some MW teams were not exactly happy about playing make-up games last week, the Aggies were glad to play two, even though they were tough in that one was at home and the next one on the road in 48 hours.

“The more games I can play, the better, and that’s how all our guys are,” Bean said. “We just want to play. Our mindset is we love playing together. As a team, it helps us stay connected. It’s been a good thing for us to stay loose and stay sharp.”

The Aggies will depart for Las Vegas on Tuesday.

MW FAN EXPERIENCE

Fans who are missing being in-person at the 2021 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships can now enjoy a new digital gameday with “The Mountain West Hoops Second-Screen Experience.” Fans can enter the virtual gameday exclusively at www.MountainWestHoops.com on their smartphone or computer.

“The Mountain West Hoops Second-Screen Experience” will provide fans worldwide with engaging, interactive content that includes fan polls, predictive games, trivia, virtual cheers, chat options, live game action, halftime and postgame shows. Join the competition and see how you fare against fellow MW fans.

“The Mountain West Hoops Second-Screen Experience” is available for all tournament games. For the full game schedule for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, visit Championship Central at TheMW.com/2021.

AGGIE WOMEN

The 2020-21 season came to an end for the Aggie women Sunday afternoon in the first round of the Mountain West Championships. The 10th-seeded Aggies dropped their 16th straight game, falling to sixth-seeded Wyoming, 69-41, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Freshman Kinley Falslev, a Green Canyon graduate, led all Aggie scorers, finishing the game with 10 points. Nine of the 10 USU players who saw action got in the scoring column. USU (4-20) was led in rebounds by guard Emmie Harris, who had seven.

Wyoming (11-9) was led in scoring by Dagny Davidsdottir, who went for a game-high 17 points.

The Aggies finished the game shooting 21.7 percent (13 of 60) from the field, while shooting 12.5 percent (2 of 16) from 3-point range and 86.7 percent (13 of 15) at the foul line. Wyoming shot 51.8 percent (29 of 56) from the field, as well as 25.0 percent (5 of 20) from beyond the arc and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) at the free throw line.

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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