An emotional letdown is expected Sunday afternoon when the Aggie men’s basketball team takes the court.
Utah State head coach Craig Smith is aware and on it. He pointed out no matter what the outcome would have been Friday, it would be natural for a carry over to Sunday. But he is happy the No. 15 Aggies came out on top against LSU at the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic at Montego Bay, Jamaica.
It was a wild finish as USU (6-0) rallied from a 19-point second half deficit to beat the Tigers (3-2), 80-78. Sam Merrill hit a 3-pointer with 56 seconds left in the game that ended up being the game winner.
“It’s an emotional win coming off the LSU game,” Smith said. “I knew, win or lose the LSU game, it would be emotional. Now we are going to find out what kind of toughness we have and what kind of character that we have bouncing back against a North Texas team that is very difficult to go against.”
Now the Aggies turn their attention to North Texas (2-4). The Mean Green lost to Rhode Island on Friday, 60-47. Tipoff Sunday is set for 4:30 p.m. and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.
While North Texas may not have a winning record, Smith is leery for several reasons. He knows his team will be coming off a wild, emotional game. Plus, the Mean Green are another team that had success a year ago with many players back. They just haven’t been able to put it all together yet this season.
“North Texas has had back-to-back 20-win seasons,” Smith said. “They have had a very difficult schedule to this point with losses at VCU and Arkansas. ... They are very balanced and very deep. Depending on the game really depends on who plays.”
North Texas is averaging 59.3 points a game. Guard Umoja Gibson is the lone Mean Green player with double figures, averaging 12.8 points per game and a team-best 3.0 assists an outing. Gibson, who earned all-conference accolades last year, had 20 points in the Rhode Island loss.
“Their Achilles heal, like LSU, is they turn it over a lot,” Smith said of the Mean Green. “I would anticipate more of a knock you down, drag it out type of game. They do get 11 offensive rebounds a game. We are going to have to be hard nosed.”
In the loss Friday, North Texas had two players with double digits in rebounding in Deng Geo (13) and Thomas Bell (10). Bell came off the bench.
“They are very disciplined team and defensive oriented,” Smith said of the Mean Green. “They are really good defensively. They get into the ball hard. They take a ton of charges and rebound well. ... They force 16 turnovers a game, so that is really where their bread is buttered. ... We’ve got to handle that pressure.”
North Texas went to Jamaica 19th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 56.8 points a game. The same five players have started every game for the Mean Green, just like USU.
“They make it difficult to score in the paint,” Smith said. “They just don’t give up many easy baskets. We are going to really have to pass the ball against them and get them moving. A big problem against LSU in the first 25 minutes was we were just catch it, dribble three times before we make a decision instead of moving the ball.”
The Aggies do average 19.7 assists a game, so they will need to continue to share the ball and find the open man. Merrill leads the way in the passing department with 5.0 assists a game, while Abel Porter has 4.3 dimes an outing. Justin Bean is up to 3.0 apg.
USU continues to have five athletes in double-figure scoring. Merrill leads the way with 18.5 ppg., followed by Alphonso Anderson (14.0), Bean (13.3), Brock Miller (11.3) and Diogo Brito (11.2). Anderson and Brito come off the bench.
In the rebounding department, Bean is averaging a double-double as he grabs 11.2 boards a game. Anderson is next at 6.5 rpg.
The Aggies watched film Saturday morning, did a walk through and then practiced in the afternoon to get ready for the Mean Green.
“I like the look in our guys eyes,” Smith said. “We had a great mentality. I liked our preparation. Usually, that means good things for the Aggies.”