There was no let down Thursday afternoon by the Aggies at Clune Arena.
Utah State celebrated New Year’s Eve a little early with another Mountain West Conference blowout victory. The Aggie men’s basketball team had no trouble at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, rolling to a 83-48 win over the Falcons.
“That’s a very good win for the Aggies,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “I thought we played very, very well. We have so much respect for Air Force. They are so tough to prepare for. … Any time you come away with a win at the Air Force Academy, it’s a very good win.”
The Aggies (6-3, 3-0 MW) are off to their best ever start in the Mountain West. The last time USU was 3-0 in league play was the last year in the WAC during the 2012-13 campaign.
Air Force (3-4, 1-2) was coming off a big win at Nevada. However, that game was 10 days ago. The Falcons struggled in the turnover department, and that proved very costly.
The Aggies turned 26 Air Force turnovers into 45 points. Both of those numbers were season highs. USU finished with nine turnovers for the game with most of them coming late when the reserves were playing. Those nine turnovers were turned into just five points by the Falcons.
“We were really active on the ball and it caused a lot of deflections,” said Aggie guard Brock Miller, who finished with 14 points and also had two steals. “Neemi(as Queta) saved us a lot on a lot of back doors because of how active he was with his hands. Him and (Justin) Bean were really active. … I thought we were in the right positions. The coaches really helped us out. Getting them (Falcons) to turn the ball over like that led to easy offense for us.”
USU came up with 11 steals. Bean matched his season-high with three.
“I thought we defended really well,” Smith said. “... Once we settled in, we made it very difficult on them. We have been very connected.”
Ten Aggies scored as once again they used a balanced attack. Bean led five teammates in double digits with a game-high 15. Joining Bean were Miller (14), Marco Anthony (12), Queta (10) and Steven Ashworth (10) off the bench. Sean Bairstow just missed double figures with nine points, also off the bench.
“We shared the ball really well,” Miller said. “Any time you can get a win here at Air Force, it’s big time. We’re thrilled about that. … We got good shots and knocked them down. We played together.”
The Aggies had 24 assists as Anthony had a career-high six, followed by Bean and Queta with five each.
“We are really starting to play together and share the ball with 24 assists to nine turnovers,” Smith said. “... Marco Anthony was really good. Justin Bean was really good. Queta was very good. Brock Miller was very, very good, and Steven Ashworth gave a great spark as well, and Bairstow too.”
The Falcons had just one player reach double figures in Nikc Jackson with 11. The top two Falcon scorers -- Chris Joyce and AJ Walker -- were held to a combined 10 points, which is more than 17 points below what they combine to average.
Queta threw down a dunk to start the game, but it was a back-and-forth contest for the first three-and-a-half minutes. After three ties and two lead changes, the Aggies took charge.
Queta drove in for a layup to trigger a 12-0 surge. Five different Aggies scored during the run as Bairstow and Bean drained 3-point shots. It was the first trey of the season for Bean, who capped the run giving the visitors a 21-9 lead eight minutes into the game.
The Falcons went nearly six minutes without scoring. Then after they did, USU was rolling again. The Aggies put up seven unanswered points to take a 28-11 lead with nine minutes left in the opening half. Ashworth had five points during the run.
Air Force did put together a 9-2 run to get back within 10. Jackson had seven points as the hosts got within 30-20 with 6:14 left in the first half.
Anthony drilled his second 3-pointer of the game to spark a 8-0 run. Miller capped it with a bomb from well beyond the arc to give USU a 42-23 lead with 1:39 before the break. The Aggies took a 44-28 lead into halftime.
Air Force had 11 turnovers over the first 20 minutes, and USU turned those into 19 points. The Aggies only had three turnovers, which turned into just two points for the Falcons. It would get worse for the hosts in the second half.
After trading buckets to begin the second half, Miller nailed a 3-point shot to start a 15-0 run. Miller had two triples, while Bean added five points, including a layup off a pass from Queta to give USU a commanding 61-30 lead with 14:23 to play.
The largest lead came with four minutes to play after a Bairstow layup off a Ashworth steal and pass. That bucket made it 81-43.
“I loved how our bench played,” Smith said. “Our starting five are really starting to show some leadership.”
The Aggies have now won five in a row.
The Aggies starting lineup for the eighth game this season was: Marco Anthony, Rollie Worster, Brock Miller, Justin Bean and Neemias Queta. … For the third straight game all 15 Aggies that were dressed saw action. … USU made a season-high 12 3-point shots and shot a season-best 52.3 percent from the field … The Aggies won the rebound battle, 32-23, for the ninth straight game this season. … The 48 points by Air Force was a season low for a USU opponent, … Neemias Queta blocked one shot Thursday and now has 144 rejections for his career, which ties him with Tai Wesley for third at USU. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Falcons, 20-6,
AGGIE WOMEN WIN TOO
It was much closer, but the USU women’s basketball team also picked up a victory against Air Force on Thursday, 70-66. They played at the exact same time as the men did, only they were in the friendly confines of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Neither team enjoyed more than an eight-point lead throughout the contest. The Aggies (3-4, 1-1) trailed the Falcons (2-4, 0-1) heading into the fourth quarter, 60-53.
USU held Air Force to just six fourth-quarter points on 1 of 12 shooting from the field, while forcing five turnovers and outrebounding the Falcons 13-8 in the final period.
Stretching between the third and fourth quarters, sophomore guard Faith Brantley scored nine straight points for the Aggies, as she scored 13 of her career-high 17 points in the second half while shooting 7-of-9 from the field. Brantley also tied a career-high with eight rebounds.
“We really wanted this win tonight. We were in the Spectrum for the first time in conference, it was big for us,” USU head coach Kayla Ard said. “The girls were definitely prepared and they were locked in all week. We didn’t play great, but at the end of the third quarter we had a very energetic huddle and I thought we just responded very well in the fourth. We held them to six points in the fourth quarter, which was huge, and that was just about heart.”
Junior Monique Pruitt also had a career game, coming off the bench to contribute career-highs of 18 points and seven rebounds before fouling out.
The Aggies will host the Falcons again on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Spectrum
With as balanced as the Aggies were, this should be shared by at least seven players. However, Marco Anthony gets the nod. The junio guard was perfect from the field, hitting all five of his shots, including two from long range. He finished with 12 points and dished out a career-high six assists. Anthony also had two rebounds and played 25 minutes.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
Team leader Neemias Queta didn’t waste any time adding to his season total. Eleven seconds into the game he threw down a pass from Rolle Worster. Later in the first half, Queta slammed down a two-hander off a pass from Steven Ashworth.
Queta made it a trio of dunks with a rebound one-hand slam early in the second half to cap the Aggie dunks for the game.
Season dunk count: Quetta 12, Justin Bean 3, Marco Anthony 3, Trevin Dorius 2, Szymon Zapala 2, Alphonso Anderson 1.
The Aggies will remain in Colorado for the second of the two-game series with the Falcons. The two play again on Saturday at 4 p.m. That contest will be broadcast on Stadium.