One of the longest road trips in recent memory for the Aggie men’s basketball team came to an end Monday night.
Utah State returned from the east coast where it has played four games over 10 days. While the Aggies are tired and ready to be home, they couldn’t be happier.
Leaving Logan with a bitter taste in their collective mouths after a 72-69 loss to UC Davis, USU ventured east and grew together as a team. The Aggies return on a four-game winning streak and a championship trophy. USU won the Myrtle Beach Invitational (MBI) on Sunday, beating Oklahoma 73-70.
“The story of the game for us was hanging in there, just hanging in there,” first-year Aggie head coach Ryan Odom said. “They (Sooners) led for 22 minutes of the game. We never let it get to more than seven (as a deficit). There were some big shots made, some key rebounds. ... Credit to our guys for figuring it out at the right moment and not getting frustrated.”
Utah State (4-1) used an 8-0 run late in the game to take the lead for good. The Aggies got two huge 3-pointers from Brock Miller and Brandon Horvath knocked down a pair for free throws. USU led for the final 1:43 of the game, and Bean made 3 of 4 foul shots in the final 14 seconds to seal the win and hand Oklahoma (4-1) its first setback of the 2021-22 season.
“We really came together as a team those last four minutes,” Bean said. “We trusted each other and executed.”
The Aggie head coach agreed.
“There was no break in our team,” Odom said. “Justin Bean was amazing throughout the entire tournament. Rylan Jones and Brock Miller making big shots. Brandon (Horvath) playing his game. There were a lot of positive things to draw from this tournament for us.
“We said we wanted to come down here and play for a championship, and we did. We put our best foot forward and went for it. We were able to outlast them (Sooners) there at the end.”
If it’s possible that college basketball fans hadn’t heard of Justin Bean, most know about him now. The senior forward more than showed up at the MBI. He was crowned the MVP after averaging 24.7 points, 14.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game in three victories. Bean shot 69.0 percent (29 of 42) from the floor, 62.5 percent (5 of 8) from behind the 3-point line and 91.7 percent (11 of 12) at the free throw line.
The accolades for Bean began on Sunday continued on Monday. He was named the Mountain West Player of the Week for the second straight time. Bean also picked up some national Player of the Week accolades. He is just happy the team is coming together and getting it done on the court.
“It was an overall team effort,” said Bean on Sunday after scoring 24 points and grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. “Lots of guys stepped up big. ... We were mentally tough (against Oklahoma), our biggest test of the year. Different guys stepped up. Brock hit a couple of huge threes for us down the stretch.”
In the first game of the MBI, Bean broke his career-high in scoring with 33 points against Penn in a 87-79 double-overtime win. That record had been around for less than a week as he scored 30 points against Richmond in a neutral-site game at Annapolis, Maryland, that started the whole road trip.
“I’m excited for our team; I’m excited for Justin and the rest of the guys,” Odom said.
All five Aggie starters were honored at the conclusion of the tournament. Jones made the all-tournament first team with Bean. Horvath and Miller made the second team, while RJ Eytle-Rock was on the honorable mention team. There were five athletes on the first team, six on the second team and six honorable mention from the eight schools that participated.
“Rylan (Jones) is as tough as they come,” Odom said. “He is a key player for our team. He understands he is going to take some blows out there playing with a lot of big guys. His willingness to compete for the ball says everything. He wants to win. I’m just glad he is on our team.”
The Aggies return to action on Saturday. They host UT Arlington (1-4) in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We obviously had a rough start, not the start any of us wanted,” Odom said. “We didn’t play particularly well in that first game. I will never forget walking up the tunnel immediately after the game and all I heard was Brock (Miller) yelling up the tunnel that we were going to be fine and he wanted every head up. That’s the type of leadership this team has. ... We have now had some things go our way in some tight games. It is really early in the season. We need to keep working to improve.”