Montana Western Utah St Basketball

Utah State guard Max Shulga (11) drives to the basket on Wednesday in Logan.

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It’s been a week since the Aggie men played an exhibition basketball game, and it will be another week before the regular season begins.

Utah State has been working on getting healthier and coming together more as a team. That could be scary as the Aggies looked good against NAIA Montana Western, plus reports of a closed scrimmage at SMU have been favorable. Perhaps it won’t take as long for the veteran USU athletes, transfers and newcomers to all be on the same page.

“We will watch a lot of film,” Aggie forward Justin Bean said after the 81-51 exhibition win last week. “We need to correct some things on both sides of the floor. We need to be competitive in practice and not get relaxed. When we play those first few games against good competition, we need to be ready to come out and play our game and get our shots.”

Utah State opens the 2021-22 campaign by hosting UC Davis next Tuesday in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum at 7:30 p.m. It will be part of a doubleheader as the Aggie women open their season against Westminster at 5 p.m.

Bean had a monster game in 33 minutes of action. He led USU in scoring (21 points), rebounding (10) and tied for the team lead assists (5) and blocks (2). Bean was second in steals with two, behind Cade Potter’s three thefts.

Bean was asked about playing with UMBC transfer Brandon Horvath, who basically plays the same position as Bean, but when the two are on the court at the same time the 6-foot-10 forward will move to the five.

“It helps to stretch the floor and know there could be a mismatch for either of us,” Bean said of playing with Horvath, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and blocked two shots. “Coach has said we are going to attack mismatches. Being able to go inside out is going to be good. We have a good chemistry and I love playing with him.”

Horvath only attempted one 3-pointer and missed, but the big man can shoot from outside. First-year head coach Ryan Odom has confidence in Horvath and Bean, who has worked a lot on his shot from long range. Bean pointed out that there will be a big difference from last year.

“Everyone can shoot it one through four and sometimes the five. When Brandon is out there he can step back and shoot a three,” Bean said. “It’s really good for our spacing. We do need to get better at getting our offense set or as coach calls it ‘setting the table.’ We didn’t set the table very well and get set on offense, which led to some scramble situations.”

Horvath and Bean shared the ball with each other throughout the game. Both had multiple dunks, but one heads-up play by Bean had the media talking after the game. After Rylan Jones had swooped in for a layup midway through the second half, Montana Western was lazy with the inbound pass. Bean started down the court after the Jones bucket, but quickly turned and intercepted the pass and made a layup.

“I was ginning for sure,” Bean said. “I love those kind of plays, just sneaky and trying to get in their head a little bit. It’s something we do in pick-up when guys are being lax. I will turn around and try to steal the ball and go lay it up. It frustrates other teams. I won’t do that a whole lot because it can lead to some mismatches for the other team on offense.”

Odom likes what Bean brings to the court and the locker room. That’s why he chose the senior, along with fellow senior Brock Miller, as team captains for the season.

“They (Bean and Miller) represent everything that we would want in a captain for a sports team,” Odom said. “They do everything right off the court. They are extremely polite to people. They are caring. Most importantly, they serve their teammates. They want to help their teammates. That’s what leaders do. It’s not about yelling at somebody, it’s can you help them and get the most out of your teammates. We have young guys in the locker room that really need that. We also have older guys like Brandon (Horvath) and RJ (Eytle-Rock) that this (playing at USU) is new to them.

“We are merging two worlds. We are merging the UMBC world with our staff and Utah State. Bean and Brock represent Utah State in the finest of ways. I want it to mean something going forward for the next captains.”

With so much time between the exhibition game and the season opener, the Aggies will try and take a step forward.

“This stretch is so critical,” Bean said. “Once the season starts, it seems like games go by fast and the season goes by fast.”

“We’ve got to figure out where our potential weaknesses are and refine ourselves offensively,” Odom said. “We have another level we can certainly get to. If we stay where we are at right now, we are not going to be where we want to be.”

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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