Utah State didn’t have much time to warm up for the second half Saturday evening at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Aggies came out of the long, steep tunnel onto the court with less than two minutes before the second half was to begin. They were going over the game plan for the second half and making sure everyone was on the same page for some defensive changes.
Trailing by 15 points and allowing the host Lobos to make 10 3-pointers in the first half had first-year head coach Ryan Odom and his staff a little upset. USU quickly found itself down 17, as New Mexico scored the first bucket of the second half.
Then the Aggies went to work.
USU was able to make up the deficit — plus a little — and left Albuquerque with a 90-87 overtime win. It was the first Mountain West Conference win for Odom and his Aggies (10-5, 1-1 MW) this season.
“We were hoping to get off to a much better start than we did,” Odom said. “It was a rough start. The defense was not tight. They (Lobos) were picking us apart in the first half.”
Having not played in 10 days, may have caused USU to get off to a slow start. The Lobos (7-8, 0-2) hadn’t played in a week, but came out firing from long range.
“We didn’t play to our standard the first half,” said Aggie forward Justin Bean, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. “We had to respond.”
USU went to a 1-3-1 zone to try and throw the Lobos off. New Mexico scored 42 points in the first half. The Lobos shot 51.7 percent in the first half, including 10 of 15 from long range. In the second half, New Mexico shot 34.5 percent from the field and hit 6 of 17 from long range.
“We had to switch our defense up and take a chance and try some of our zones a little bit to keep them (Lobos) off balance,” Odom said. “... We were able to keep them in front of us a little bit more.”
While the Aggie defense came up with some big stops, the offense also got much better. USU got aggressive and started scoring in the paint after halftime. The Aggies shot 70.4 percent from the field in the second half after making 35.7 percent over the first 20 minutes. USU finished at 55 percent for the game.
“I was hoping we would play better offensively in the first half, but we began to figure it out in the second,” Odom said. “... We had a number of guys come up big for us.”
The Aggies outscored the Lobos in the paint, 54-20, for the game. USU also pushed the ball more in the second half and outscored the hosts 23-2 on fastbreak points.
“We were getting good shots in the first half, but not great shots,” Bean said. “We did a good job reading close outs, played more connected off the pick-and-roll, guys were rolling harder, we were cutting harder and faster and were able to get to the rim.”
Six Aggies finished in double-digit scoring. Joining Bean were RJ Eytle-Rock (season-high 16), Sean Bairstow (tied career high with 14), Brandon Horvath (13), Steven Ashworth (12) and Rylan Jones (10). Jones also had eight assists.
Having trailed for most of the game, the Aggies had the lead near the end of regulation. The Lobos hit a 3-pointer that would end up sending the game to OT.
“We wanted to foul there at the end of regulation,” Odom said. “Our guys did a nice job of making them take time getting up the court and getting in a good position. We just didn’t seize that moment and foul. That’s a learning lesson for us.”
USU scored first off a jumper by Bean and never trailed in the extra period. New Mexico did tie the score three times, but each time USU responded. Bean had six points in the extra period, while Eytle-Rock hit two big free throws, as did Ashworth and Bairstow. The foul shots by Ashworth and Bairstow came in the final 19 seconds.
The Lobos also were whistled for a shot-clock violation with less than 30 seconds to play.
“The shot clock violation at the end was a huge defensive possession for us,” Odom said. “That’s where games are won and lost. For us to come up with that one was huge.”
“It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win on the road in a tough place,” Bean said.
With his 36th career double-double, Bean moved into a tie with Eric Franson and Wayne Estes for third in school history. Both of those former Aggies are in the schools Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Those are two amazing players,” Bean said. “It’s amazing company to be in. It’s an honor. I feel really blessed. I’m going to keep moving forward and keep trying to bring some victories to Aggie nation and lightening that A blue.”
Bairstow started in place of Brock Miller, who sat out to rest his back. Odom expects Miller to be back this week.
Monday afternoon the Aggies got some good news, finding out from the league that one of the two postponed home games has been rescheduled. USU will welcome Boise State to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m. The game was originally slated for Jan. 4, but the Broncos had to go on a pause because of COVID.
For ticketing purposes, if you are a season ticket holder or mini-plan holder, your tickets will be good for the new date of the contest. If you’ve downloaded mobile tickets, your tickets will automatically update to this new date. Single-game tickets purchased for the original date will still be valid for the game on Jan. 20.
USU was also supposed to host San Jose State on New Year’s Day, but the Spartans went on a COVID pause. The status of that postponed game has not been announced.