Montana Western Utah St Basketball FOLLOW

Montana Western guard Jamal Stephenson (1) takes a shot as Utah State forward Justin Bean defends in and exhibition game earlier this sesaon. Bean was named the MVP of the Myrtle Beach Invitational Sunday after the Aggies won the tournament.

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Time away from home has been well spent by the Aggie men’s basketball team.

Utah State will return home with four straight neutral-site victories and some hardware. The Aggies rallied late in the second half in the championship game of the 2021 Myrtle Beach Invitational to beat Oklahoma, 73-30, and win the three-day event.

“I’ve been a Sooners fan my whole life,” said USU forward Justin Bean, who grew up 10 minutes from the campus of Oklahoma. “This one definitely meant a lot to me, to have my family here watching in the stands. My brothers and I would always act like we were the OU players and go to all the games. It meant a lot to me to compete against a great team like Oklahoma.”

Bean was named the John T. Rhodes Most Valuable Player of the tournament. He averaged 24.7 points and 14.3 rebounds a game. The senior had a monster outing Sunday afternoon in Conway, South Carolina, at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina with 24 points and a career-high 19 rebounds. It was his fourth double-double of the season.

“I don’t take these moments for granted,” Bean said. “I feel like I put a lot of work in during the offseason. The coaching staff has helped me to become a completely different player. I’m going to soak this in as much as I can.”

First-year Aggie head coach Ryan Odom is thankful to have a player like Bean.

“It’s like WIlt Chamberlain; it’s crazy,” Odom said. “The first thing you notice about Justin is his motor and willingness to go after the ball. He has clearly developed things in this offseason that have really added to his game, and he is not afraid to go for it. He has his coaches’ blessing.”

Down four with less than two-and-a-half minutes to play, the Aggies (4-1) just couldn’t quite seem to pull even with the Sooners (4-1), who were 4.5-point favorites to win Sunday. USU got within a point or two on several occasions, but each time Oklahoma would score back-to-back buckets.

“The story of the game for us was just hanging in there,” Odom said. “We never let it get to a point that we were down more than seven. ... There was no break in our team.”

Brandon Horvath made a pair of free throws with 2:19 to play to trigger a game-changing run. Brock Miller drilled a 3-pointer off a pass from Bean to put the Aggies ahead, 67-66, with 1:43 left in the contest.

“His shots were huge,” Odom said of Miller. “That’s what we love about Brock. Brock is never afraid, he is a confident guy.”

Neither team scored over the next 75 seconds. Rylan Jones drew a charge to get USU the ball back with less than a minute to play and the lead. Then Miller struck again. This time Steven Ashworth found the sharp-shooter, who promptly swished a trey to give the Aggies a 70-66 lead with 27 ticks left on the clock.

“Brock hit a couple of huge threes for us down the stretch,” Bean said. “... He was the MVP of the last few minutes. Brock is a confident shooter.”

The game was far from being over, however. Umoja Gibson made a pair of free throws with 22 seconds to play for the Sooners. Bean was fouled with 14 seconds left. He made the first, but missed the second as USU had a 71-68 lead.

Jordan Goldwire drove in for a layup with six seconds on the clock.

After a timeout, Bean took a long pass and elected not to go to the basket, circling around and getting fouled with 4.5 seconds left. This time he swished the net both times to give USU a 3-point lead.

“Coach pointed out we shot 20 of 21 from the free throw line and of course I was the only one to miss one,” Bean said to some laughter from the media.

Oklahoma was fouled before it could get a shot off with two ticks left. Gibson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Horvath corralled the rebound to seal the victory.

“It was a heck of a basketball game,” Odom said. “It was a stressful game in a lot of ways. Oklahoma is a good team.”

Bean was joined in double-digit scoring by a trio of teammates in Miller (16), Horvath (13) and RJ Eytle-Rock (10).

The Sooners also had four players reach double figures in scoring, led by Tanner Groves with 18. Gibson netted 16. Elijah Harkless and Jalen Hill added 10 points each.

The Sooners built a 9-4 lead in the early going as the Aggies struggled to find the bottom of the net to start the game, going 3 of 10 from the field. USU fought back and tied the game with a 3-pointer by Miller seven-and-a-half minutes into the game.

The Aggies took their first lead during a 8-0 run. Ashworth sank a pair of free throws, then found Horvath and Miller for treys. USU had a 19-14 lead with 11:06 left in the opening half.

Then both teams really struggled to score and keep possession of the ball. The Aggies went four-and-a-half minutes without scoring, while the Sooners had just two points during a five-minute stretch.

Over the final six minutes of the first half, the score was tied five times and the lead changed hands twice. Bean capped off a strong first half with a bucket in the paint off a pass from Eytle-Rock. USU took a 32-30 lead into the break. It was just the second time this season the Aggies enjoyed a lead at halftime.

The Sooners outscored the Aggies 17-8 to start the second half and built their largest lead of the game, 47-40, with 13:51 to play.

USU got within a point with a 6-0 surge as Eytle-Rock, Horvath and Bean scored. The Aggies trailed 57-56 with 7:12 left in the game.

Oklahoma stretched its lead to six before USU made its final push to get in front.

“We don’t win the game without multiple guys,” Odom said. “Rylan Jones, Brock (Miller), Brandon (Horvath), RJ (Eytle-Rock), Steven (Ashworth), there were a lot of important plays within that game.”

TIP-INS

Last time USU won an eight-team, three-day tournament was in 2006 at the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Aggies did win the Jersey Mike's Jamaica Classic in 2019. … USU improved to 21-7 in tournament play over the last three years, which includes conference tournament action and the NCAA Tournament. … USU won the rebounding battle, 39-32. … The Aggies were outscored in the paint for the first time this season, 34-32. ... The game was tied 10 times and the lead changed hands five times. … Justin Bean recorded his 30th career double-double, which moved him into a tie with Neemias Queta and Mike Santos. … Rylan Jones had a game-best five assists, which marked the third time this season he has had at least five dimes. ... The all-time series with Oklahoma is now tied at 1-1.

GAME BALL

Justin Bean capped off an incredible tournament by winning the MVP. He finished with 24 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the field, including making both of his 3-point attempts. He was 6 of 7 from the foul line. The senior grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds and ended up setting a tournament record with 43 rebounds in three games. Bean also had three assists and two steals in 39 minutes of action.

AGGIE DUNK/CHARGE COUNT

The first points of the game by the Aggies came off a dunk. Brandon Horvath took a pass from Justin Bean and drove the lane for a slam. Horvath added another highlight dunk in the second half, driving in and rattling the rim.

There was just one charge drawn by the Aggies, but what a big one late in the game and by who else by the king of taking charges, Rylan Jones.

Season dunk count: Bean 3, Trevin Dorius 2, Horvath 2.

Season charge count: Jones 9, Max Shulga 1, Horvath 1.

UP NEXT

After nearly two weeks on the road, the Aggies return home for a game on Saturday against UT Arlington. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. The Mavericks (1-4) lost at San Diego State on Saturday, 68-62.

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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