BLOOMINGTON, Indiana — Aggie fans will have to wait a little longer to celebrate a win in the NCAA Tournament.
Utah State took on No. 21 Texas Tech in the First Round of the Big Dance Friday afternoon and came up short in the defensive battle at Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University. The Red Raiders used a 13-0 run in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit and rolled to a 65-53 win in front of 500 fans.
“Congratulation to Texas Tech,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “They played great. They earned it.”
The last win in the NCAA Tournament came in 2001 for the Aggies (20-9). USU has now lost nine straight at the Big Dance.
With the win, the Red Raiders (18-10) will now face Arkansas in the second round. The Razorbacks beat Colgate, 85-68.
“It’s a happy locker room because we knew that we had a tough draw,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “Utah State is one of the most disciplined teams in the tournament. Queta is a really good player inside, all sorts of challenges, so we are pleased to win.”
For the Aggies, it was a downer of an ending to a special season. USU had earned just the third at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament in school history after reaching the conference tournament championship game.
“We tried to enjoy being here,” said Aggie center Neemias Queta, who had a solid outing with 11 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and seven blocked shots. “Only 68 teams get to play here. This is a great experience for us. We wanted to enjoy it and be ready to play. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, which leaves us a little sad, but at the same time we are all grown men and learn from this.”
It was the 16th double-double of the season for Queta and the 30th of his Aggie career. He also made some national news as just the second player in the NCAA Tournament since 1986 to finish with 10-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and five-plus blocks.
“Neemi is a phenomenal player, a tremendous person,” Smith said. “He’s just playing at such an elite level. He ends the game with 11 points, 13 boards, six assists and seven blocked shots, and not many guys in the world, college basketball, NBA, pro basketball, in the world can do something like that.”
But too many turnovers and not enough made shots when open did the Aggies in Friday. USU finished with a season-high 22 turnovers for the game.
“You know, they really swarmed us,” Smith said. “They’re an elite defensive team and we knew that coming in. The turnover battle was going to be a big thing. The two things that we really thought, valuing the ball, being ball tough, being able to make quick decisions, you have to do that at a high level to get good shots against these guys and to eliminate losing. One of the pieces of eliminating losing is taking care of the ball.”
Additionally, USU only knocked down 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range, with many of those being open looks. The Aggies also were just 5 of 10 from the foul line for the game.
“You know, you make a couple of those (open 3-point shots), it certainly gives the game a different look,” Smith said. “Basketball sometimes comes down to a shot-making game. When you can make those, the game changes and becomes a lot simpler real fast.”
Texas Tech turned those 22 turnovers into 28 points. The Red Raiders were 7 of 18 from 3-point range and had just eight turnovers.
Queta dealt with double and triple teams all game.
“They know how to swarm the ball,” Queta said of the Red Raiders. “I was just trying to do whatever they gave me. I was trying to find an open teammate. They did a good job of defending me. I’ve got to get better.”
Joining Queta in double-figure scoring was Justin Bean with 13 points and Marco Anthony with 11. Bean also had eight rebounds, while Anthony had four assists and blocked two shots.
The Red Raiders were led by Mac McClung with a game-best 16 points. Kyler Edwards netted 12 points, and Terrence Shannon, Jr. and Kevin McCullar each added 10 points.
“Utah State is a well-coached team with some really good players,” Beard said. “We knew they were not going to beat themselves, and we were going to have to try and be the aggressor to get this first game under our belts. They had an outstanding season, very worthy of their bid. I have a lot of respect for their program.”
The Red Raiders jumped out to a 5-0 lead to start the game as McCullar scored all of the points.
The Aggies had turnovers on three of their first four possessions, but then settled in for a little bit. They reeled off 10 unanswered points, with Queta scoring the first four points, then picking up two assists as he found Alphonso Anderson for two buckets. Bean added two free throws and USU was up 10-5.
But the Aggies would go six-and-a-half minutes without scoring. When they did, it tied the game up as the Red Raiders went more than three minutes without a point.
Texas Tech then went on a 7-0 run to take a 19-12 lead with six minutes left in the opening half.
Anthony ended a 2:30 scoring drought with a long jumper. On the next possession, Anthony found Brock Miller for a 3-pointer, which sparked another 10-0 run by the Aggies. An Anthony rebound dunk and free throw gave USU a 24-20 lead late in the first half. The Aggies took a 26-23 lead into the locker room, despite having 13 turnovers.
“We had 13, but it felt like 20 (turnovers),” Smith said. “We had clean looks, and I felt like most of the night we had clean looks. It’s just we kept turning it over. Like I said, that’s what they do. They’re big, long, they’re athletic, except for at the five spot, and they cover a lot of ground and they clearly just swarm you.”
Another Miller trey early in the second half gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 31-25, with 16:47 to play. It was short-lived, though.
That’s because Texas Tech proceeded to go on the game-changing 13-0 run. The Red Raiders would hit seven straight field goals to take control of the game.
The Aggies did get to within 49-41 with 7:39 to play, but would get no closer. TTU’s largest lead came with less than a minute to play, 65-49.
“I’m really proud of our team, and I know most coaches are going to say that at this time of the year,” Smith said. “... It’s disappointing we lost, no question. There’s only one team that’s not disappointed at the end of the year, and that’s the national champion.”
Utah State is now 6-24 in the NCAA Tournament all time. ... The Aggies won the rebound battle, 38-28, for the 29th straight game this season — which is every game this year. They also had double digits on the offensive end (11) for the 25th time this season. ... Queta moved to third all-time in school history with 37 career games with double-digit rebounds. He also moved to seventh all-time in school history with 30 career double-doubles. The junior is now tied for third in Mountain West history with 219 career blocks, matching Utah’s David Foster. ... Miller passed Reid Newey (572) and moved into fifth place in career 3-point field goal attempts as he now has 573. ... Texas Tech leads the all-time series with the Aggies, 3-2.
This has to go to the big man. Queta was solid in every aspect as he finished with his 16th double-double of the season, with 11 points and a game-best 13 rebounds. He was 5 of 8 from the foul line and made 1 of 2 free throws. The junior also matched his career high with a game-best six assists. He blocked seven shots and played all 40 minutes, a new career high.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
There was one dunk in the first half and it was a dandy. Anthony timed it just right to grab a offensive rebound and slam it home late in the opening half.
There were no dunks in the second half.
Season dunk count: Queta 44, Trevin Dorius 7, Bean 7, Anthony 6, Anderson 3, Szymon Zapala 2, Sean Bairstow 1, Miller 1.