Utah State drops chippy, hostile game to No. 25 San Diego State in crushing fashion


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LOGAN — It was physical, chippy, and ejection-ridden — and melee — basketball game Utah State did everything it could to win.

No. 25 San Diego State got the better of the Aggies for much of Wednesday night’s bout, but an improbable 9-0 run by the hosts in the final five minutes nearly gave Utah State a marquee victory.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Max Shulga’s potential go-ahead, turnaround jumper in the final seconds fell harmlessly off the mark, and Utah State fell 63-61 to San Diego State in crushing fashion.

Matt Bradley was nearly perfect for San Diego State and shot 7-of-10 from the field for a team-high 18 points. The Aztecs loaded the frontcourt and outrebounded the Aggies 42-34 to give themselves 12 second-chance points.

Steven Ashworth led the Aggies with 18 points, but the Aggies shot just 38.5% from the field and just 5-of-19 from beyond the 3-point line.

The ball rimmed out one too many times; and to the dismay of 8,765 fans in attendance, Utah State dropped a chance at first place in the conference and a signature resume-building victory.

“We knew that when you’re battling for the top spot in the Mountain West, you can expect physical play, and that’s what we got. … We are one of the top teams in the Mountain West,” Ashworth said. “We’re right there with everybody. We wish that we could’ve had a different outcome to prove a little more tonight.”

“This conference is unbelievable — hard conference to win in — so we feel very fortunate to come in here and get a win,” San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said. “If you told me we were only going to score 19 points in the second half, I’d say we were going to walk out with an L. But we played well enough, defended well enough, and then Matt Bradley was able to make big, important baskets when nothing else was working.”

After losing its past three games in the Spectrum, San Diego State appeared determined to deny the Aggies the luxury of dictating the tempo.

The Aztecs established their will down low, ran with two big-men lineups, and dared the Aggies to beat them on the glass; and on defense, San Diego State frustrated Utah State guards on the perimeter. As a result, the visitors controlled a 44-28 lead at halftime and a 62-52 lead with 5:40 left to play in that game.

The physical play — along with inconsistent officiating — aided in the chaos that ensued after the whistle.

In the first half, Aztecs guard Darrion Trammell cheap-shotted Taylor Funk with a below-the-belt punch, and Funk retaliated, which prompted the officials to give him a technical foul. Utah State head coach Ryan Odom burst onto the court in frustration and was shoved out of the scrum by official John Higgins.

After 10 minutes of deliberation from the officials, Trammel was ejected from the game, as were Utah State’s Connor Odom, Connor Gilis, and assistant coach Matt Henry for leaving the bench; Ryan Odom received a technical. Later, Steven Ashworth, Max Shulga, and Aztecs guard Adam Seiko also received technical fouls in the course of the game.

“I think it was a little out of character for us in regards to some of the technical fouls and some things like that,” Ashworth said. “We’ve got to be more composed. From the grand scheme of things, it was a lot of fun playing, and there were definitely some moments of distraction where you have to get regrouped.”

The Aggies stumbled into the locker room with a 16-point deficit and shooting just 30.8% from the field in the first half. But the team came out of the break with some new-found energy and shot 46% in the second half and held the Aztecs to just 19 points.

“As we began to play that second half, our guys were committed to stepping up and making it a game, play after play,” Odom said. “It certainly didn’t come easy, but we got off to a good start in the second half. Stop, score, and we just kind of played that game as it went.”

An asserted defensive effort forced the Aztecs into tough shots at the end of the shot clock and helped the home team climb back into the game. The Aggies even held the visitors to a five-minute field goal drought to end the game.

But there wasn’t quite enough offense to cut into the deficit. The Aggies trailed by five with three minutes left to play and had multiple chances to build on its momentum, but several missed shots, including a wide-open Ashworth 3-pointer fell off. A Funk layup and Akin free throws, ultimately, cut the lead to 62-61 with a minute remaining, but the final chance to take the lead was unsuccessful.

“You can’t give the best team in the Mountain West right now a 16-point lead at halftime,” Ashworth said. “There’s a reason that they’re at the top spot, and that’s what we were battling for tonight. We proved to ourselves that even when that happens, we can come back and we can play really great defense. We proved to ourselves that we’re great defensively when we want to be. Part of that is just a connected focus. … We’re right there.”

Utah State drops to 8-4 in league play and falls to fourth place in the conference.

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