When the top two teams clashed Wednesday night at Extra Mile Arena in Boise, Idaho, the stars for each squad certainly showed up.
It came down to supporting casts to decide the Mountain West Conference men’s basketball game. Host Boise State got the upper hand in the first of a two-game series with Utah State. The Broncos made plays when needed and took advantage of a woeful shooting night by the Aggies from beyond the arc.
Boise State leaped over USU in the league standings with a 79-70 victory. The Aggies (14-6, 11-3 MW) and Broncos (17-4, 13-3) tangle again Friday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. and will be televised on FS1.
“We are still playing for a league championship,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “We are still playing for a spot to get into the NCAA Tournament. I know our guys will be locked in and fired up to play. ... Everybody has got to be ready to go.”
For just the second time this year and eighth with Smith at the helm, the Aggies lost after leading at halftime. USU held a 39-37 lead at the break after trailing most of the first 20 minutes.
Wednesday night was also just the fourth time a USU opponent has scored more than 75 points this season. The Aggie defense was suspect at times, but the Broncos also hit big shots when they needed them most.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win against an excellent team,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, tonight was not our night. ... We are a team. We don’t make excuses, just got to be better. They are too good of a team to make mistakes. Good teams make you pay.”
USU did not helps its cause from 3-point range. The Aggies made just three 3-pointers for their second lowest output of the season from long range. USU was 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) Wednesday night.
“We scored a point a possession tonight, and that will usually get it done,” Smith said. “... We always pride ourselves on the defensive end, whether you have good offense or bad offense. I don’t think we struggled on offense. I know our 3-point shooting was not a thing of beauty. We forced some and some we had clean looks and just missed them. You make a few of those and obviously it’s a whole other game.”
The loss overshadowed the night Aggie center Neemias Queta had. He recorded his eighth double-double with game highs of 32 points and 10 rebounds. The 32 points was a career high as he recorded career-best marks of 12 field goals and 21 field goal attempts.
“We ran a lot of stuff for him,” Smith said of Queta. “We felt like we needed him to score, a guy we needed to go to. Our guys really looked for him, and he took advantage of those opportunities. ... He has performed at a high level for us for two-and-a-half years now. He is not afraid of the moment. We are going to need another performance like that on Friday.”
Queta was aggressive throughout the game as half of his field goals were dunks. He also missed a dunk under heavy contact. Queta made 8 of 9 free throws in the game and also blocked two shots.
“I felt like I had an advantage in the post and tried to take advantage of it,” Queta said. “It just happened to be a good game for me, but I wish it was with a win.”
On the other side, MW Preseason Player of the Year Derrick Alston was having a big night as well. He led the Broncos with 26 points on 8 of 17 shooting, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. The senior made 7 of 8 from the foul line, while also grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“He (Alston) is a high-level player,” Smith said. “He is going to be in the NBA most likely. He is so long. He made us pay when he had opportunities.”
Now to the supporting cast. USU did get 11 points from Marco Anthony and 10 from Justin Bean, but the other two starters combined for five points on 2 of 11 shooting. Brock Miller never got going, missing all five of his 3-point attempts, as well as two free throws. Steven Ashworth, who got his first start due to a lower leg injury to Rollie Worster, made a 3-pointer and dished out six assists, but had been averaging 7.5 points a game in conference play off the bench.
“We try to score as a whole,” Queta said. “There is no pressure. We try to make plays for each other and be helpful. I felt the reason we lost wasn’t on the offensive end, but the defensive.”
Down a regular player led to less production off the bench for the Aggies. Alphonso Anderson did finish with seven points and six rebounds for USU, but Boise State’s reserves outscored the Aggie counterparts, 17-12.
Behind Alston’s big night, the Broncos had five other players with at least eight points. Marcus Shaver Jr. netted 12.
“Give them (Broncos) credit,” Smith said. “They made some big shots. We had too many defensive break downs, more in the second half where it felt like we couldn’t stop them. But give them credit, they played very well.”
Queta also brought up the Aggies’ play on the defensive end.
“We need to pick it up on the defensive end in the game Friday,” Queta said. “... We need to rebound better. We need to get a hand up more when they are shooting on the perimeter. They got comfortable and made big-time plays.”
With the status of Worster a game-time decision, the Aggies may be without the hard-nosed guard who was averaging 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game. He flirted with a triple-double in the second game at UNLV last month.
“We have other guys come fill in, so we didn’t miss Rollie, but at the same time Rollie is a big player for us,” Queta said.