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Utah State was back to being defensive Thursday night at the Save Mart Center.

For the ninth time in Mountain West Conference play this season, the Aggies held an opponent to fewer than 60 points. USU trailed briefly in the first half, but enjoyed a double-digit lead for most of the second half on its way to a 69-53 victory against Fresno State.

“I’m proud of how we played in the second half,” Aggie head coach Craig Smith said. “... I thought we defended very hard and executed our game plan. We made it a lot more difficult for them (Bulldogs) in the second half.”

USU (14-5, 11-2 MW) will stay in central California for the second of the two-game series with the Bulldogs (7-7, 5-7). The two square off again at the Save Mart Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on FS1.

“Every game is different, but it’s difficult mentally when you play the same team twice in three days,” Smith said. “Now it’s easier from a game-plan standpoint because they know the players and have had a full game to measure each other up. The second game is just harder for both sides.”

In Thursday’s win, the Aggies shared the ball well and had big efforts off the bench. USU had 17 assists on 26 made baskets. Eight different players had an assist with Marco Anthony and Steven Ashworth each leading the team with four dimes each.

“That’s an outstanding number,” Smith said of the assists and made field goals.

USU’s bench scored 32 points, marking the most points by the Aggie reserves since they scored 35 against New Mexico on Jan. 8. The Aggie bench outscored Fresno State’s 32-27. The Aggies are 10-1 this year and 51-9 under Smith when the bench outscores its counterparts.

“Our bench was big for us,” Smith said. “Our bench was outstanding.”

Alphonso Anderson led the USU bench with 13 points, while Ashworth netted 10 and Trevin Dorius had nine. That trio combined to shoot 12 of 18 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free throw line. USU’s bench was 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

“We have a good group of guys off the bench,” said Dorius, who was 3 of 3 from the field, grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots, came up with two steals and had an assist in a season-high 17 minutes. “Steven is probably one of the quickest guards I’ve ever played with or against. Alphonso is just a threat at all spots on the floor. ... Any one of us are able to come in and play. It’s a good group of guys. We play well together.”

Dorius saw more playing time because starter Neemias Queta went down with 8:31 remaining in the contest. Queta limped off, favoring an ankle. He had a game-high 14 points, five rebounds and blocked five shots in 21 minutes of action.

“It’s tough to earn minutes when there is somebody like Neemie that is playing at the level he is playing,” Dorius said. “I’m grateful the coaches trusted me when Neemie went down there in the second half. It felt good to be rewarded.”

Queta could have returned Thursday night, but with USU enjoying a double-digit lead and Dorius playing well, the Aggies elected to rest their starting center. Queta will start Saturday.

Four Aggies tied for the lead in rebounding with five — Queta, Dorius, Anthony and Justin Bean.

The Bulldogs were led by Christian Gray with nine points off the bench. Orlando Robinson, who came into the game averaging team highs in points (15.5) and rebounds (9.9), finished with eight points and five rebounds. The 7-footer did dish out a game-best six assists.

USU took a 33-29 lead into halftime, but took control in the second half. The Aggies enjoyed a 20-point lead with 6:45 to play. Fresno State never got closer than the final score.

Heading into Saturday’s game, Queta continues to lead the Aggies in scoring (12.5), rebounding (9.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (3.1) and is second in assists (2.9). Rollie Worster leads USU in assists with 3.4 an outing.

Also joining Queta in double-figure scoring is Anthony (11.2) and Bean (10.1). Brock Miller (9.8) and Worster (9.6) are flirting with double figures.

TIP-INS

After the win, Utah State moved up four spots to No. 50 in the NET rankings, while Fresno State dropped 10 places to No. 216. … The Aggies and Bulldogs are two of only three teams in the country with three players on the roster that are at least 7-feet, joining East Carolina. … The Aggies won the rebound battle, 32-31, for the 19th straight game this season and are 66-13 under Smith when that happens. … USU led at halftime and is now 12-1 on the season when leading at halftime and 58-7 all-time under Smith. ... The Aggies are 33-1 under Smith when holding opponents to fewer than 60 points. ... With five rebounds, Queta moved into No. 15 on the career rebound list with 696, passing Jalen Moore (694) and Troy Collier (694). ... With his five blocks Thursday, Queta has 58 on the year, which ties Shawn Daniels and Gilbert Pete for third most in a season. Queta holds the record with 84, set during the 2018-19 season. … Marco Anthony had a career-high three steals. … Anthony and Brock Miller were the only USU players to register more than 30 minutes with 35 and 36, respectively. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Bulldogs, 40-25.

AGGIE DUNK COUNT

After getting no dunks in the first half, the Aggies went to work rattling the rim in the second half. Queta got it started by taking an inbound pass and throwing it down four minutes into the second half. Five minutes later, Queta drove to the basket and switched to his left hand for a one-handed jam. Dorius then took a pass from Ashworth and stuffed it. Dorius then found Anderson wide open for a two-handed dunk to end the night.

Queta now has 100 career dunks at USU.

Season dunk count: Queta 28, Justin Bean 6, Dorius 6, Anthony 4, Szymon Zapala 2, Anderson 2, Sean Bairstow 1, Miller 1.

AGGIE WOMEN

For a half, the Aggie women were right there. But it takes two halves to make a game.

USU (4-10, 2-7) trailed 42-41 at halftime at home in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Fresno State (10-6, 8-3) ran away with the game in the second half. The Bulldogs won the first of the two-game series between the two, 90-62, Thursday night.

The first half output was the second-most points by the Aggies in an opening half this season.

Three USU players reached double figures in the scoring column, led by forward Jessica Chatman’s 13 points. Chatman also added a team-high 11 boards for her third double-double of the season. Guards Faith Brantley and Emmie Harris each netted 10 points. Guard Shyla Latone had career-highs of nine rebounds and seven assists, to go along with eight points in the game.

Fresno State was led in scoring by guard Hanna Cavinder, who finished with 18 points, as well as a game-high seven assists. FSU guard Haley Cavinder led all players with 14 rebounds.

USU will host Fresno State on Saturday at the Spectrum. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

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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