It could have been his final game in the Spectrum.
Neemias Queta recorded his fifth straight double-double before fouling out with 1:22 to play Thursday night. While the junior had another memorable game in an Aggie uniform, the most important thing was the outcome.
Utah State wrapped up its final men’s basketball game at home of the regular season on a good note against Mountain West Conference foe Wyoming. A strong end to the first half carried over to the second half as the Aggies won their third in a row, 72-59, in front of 1,627 fans.
“Exciting night in the Spectrum,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “It’s hard to believe this is our last night in the Spectrum. We had five weeks where we didn’t play at home, it’s crazy that it’s over right now. Happy to be able to go out on a good note.”
Queta, who tested the NBA waters after his freshman season, has been finishing his junior season strong. The reigning MW Player of the Week had 14 points, a game-best 13 rebounds and blocked five shots Thursday night.
“I’ve just been trying to finish this season strong, just trying to get into the tournament,” Queta said. “We want to get there and play strong.”
The Aggies (17-7, 14-4 MW) came into the game fighting for second place in the league. They need to win out and get a little help. USU took the first step to moving up from third Thursday night.
Wyoming (12-9, 6-8) hadn’t played in 13 days. The Cowboys came out and threw a different look at the Aggies. They left some perimeter shots wide open, but USU could not take advantage very often in the first half. In fact, the Aggies missed their first 10 3-point shots, many were open looks.
“It was definitely a different game, a game that we didn’t anticipate,” USU guard Steven Ashworth said. “They came out with a strategy that we hadn’t seen yet this season, so we had to make adjustments. Props to them for being able to come out and make plays the way that they did.”
Max Shulga hit back-to-back 3-pointers with 11 minutes to play to give the Aggies their first double-digit lead. 56-45. After a Cowboy trey, Queta and Ashworth scored to make it a 12-point game with 9:21 to play. The advantage stayed double figures the rest of the way.
“We had four guards in there at one point, started pressing them a little bit and picking up the pace of the game,” said Ashworth, who had two 3-pointers in the second half. “I think that really helped us. We carried that momentum from the later end of the first half into the later end of the game.”
Justin Bean gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 72-54, with 2:27 to play on a layup off a pass from Queta. It was the sixth straight win against the Cowboys.
“Happy to get the W,” Smith said. “We don’t have much time to enjoy this. We’ll enjoy it til midnight and hop on a plane tomorrow, get ready to play another opponent.”
Bean joined Queta with a double-double as he had a game- and season-high 21 points. He grabbed 10 rebounds. It was the third straight game Queta and Bean have had double-doubles and the fifth time this year the duo have had double-doubles in the same game.
Ashworth finished with 13 points and three assists. Rollie Worster was back in the starting lineup and dished out a game-high six assists.
The Cowboys also had a double-double as Hunter Thompson scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Hunter Maldonado led Wyoming with 14 points, while Xavier DuSell chipped in 12.
Buckets were hard to come by in the early going even with open looks. Alphonso Anderson broke the scoreless tie with a jumper off a pass from Worster nearly two minutes into the contest. There were three ties in the first seven minutes, then the Cowboys put the first run together of the night.
Wyoming hit a trio of 3-pointers to take a 19-12 lead with 10:45 left in the first half. Drake Jeffries came off the bench to drill two of them.
After going more than three-and-a-half minutes without scoring, the Aggies got going when Bean sparked them with five straight points, scoring off passes from Anderson and Ashworth and converting a three-point play. That was the start of a 12-3 surge. Queta threw down a pass from Sean Bairstow to give USU a 24-22 lead with 5:57 left in the opening half. Ashworth hit the first trey of the game for the Aggies after USU started by missing its first 10 from long range.
Worster scored five points during a 7-1 run as the Aggies built their largest lead of the first half, 34-28, with 2:33 before the break. USU took a 38-35 lead into halftime.
The Cowboys made 8 of 17 from beyond the arc over the first 20 minutes, while the Aggies were 2 of 15.
Wyoming would get no closer than three the rest of the way. The Aggies started dialing up treys in the second half and shot 51.7 percent from the field.
“Wyoming is a very talented team, well-coached,” Smith said. “They put you in a lot of tough positions and we saw that in the first half. They did some different things defensively. We were a little tentative and were able to self-correct and figure some things out. It was good for us. Our guys really stayed connected. I loved how we played in the second half, holding them to 1 for 14 from 3. We really guarded the ball well and made it difficult on them.”
Like Smith said, there is little time to enjoy the most recent win as the Aggies head to Fresno State for a game Saturday.
“Great team win,” Ashworth said. “Exciting to win at home and win the last game here at the Spectrum, and looking forward to heading to Fresno tomorrow.”
Utah State began the day at No. 47 in the NET rankings, while Wyoming checked in at No. 185. … The Aggies won the rebound battle, 42-33, for the 24th straight game this season and are 69-15 under head coach Craig Smith when that happens. … The nine turnovers by the Aggies tied for the fewest in a game this season. … Junior guard Brock Miller had started in a team-best 92 games before missing Thursday’s contest with a back injury. He had also started in each of his last 23 games, which was third-best on the team. … Neemias Queta now has 26 double-doubles and is tied with Ed Gregg for the ninth most in school history. He is also tied with Mike Santos for the fifth-most double-digit rebound games in school history. Queta is also closing in on the MW record for blocks during league play as he has 133 after Thursday, just five shy of the record held by San Diego State’s Skylar Spencer (138). … Justin Bean now has 24 double-doubles which is the 11th most in school history. His 34 career double-digit rebound games rank fourth in school history. … Freshman Max Shulga finished with a career-high eight points. ... The Cowboys still lead the all-time series with the Aggies, 50-33.
Even though he fouled out late in the game, Neemias Queta gets the ball. The junior recorded his fifth straight double-double and 12th of the season with 14 points and a game-best 13 rebounds. He was 7 of 10 from the field. Queta also blocked five shots, dished out two assists and came up with a steal in 31 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
Neemias Queta got open and Sean Bairstow found him for the first dunk of the game at the 5:57 mark of the first half. It would be the lone dunk of the first 20 minutes.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Justin Bean softly flushed one off a pass from Marco Anthony. Queta then took a pass from Alphonso Anderson, backed in and threw it down at the 14:20 mark.
Season dunk count: Queta 40, Trevin Dorius 7, Bean 7, Anthony 5, Anderson 3, Szymon Zapala 2, Bairstow 1, Brock Miller 1.
The Aggies head out on the road for a make-up game at Fresno State late Saturday night. It will be the final regular season game of the year. The Bulldogs (11-10, 9-10) picked up a big road win at Boise State on Tuesday, 67-64. The contest will tip at 9 p.m and be televised on FS1.