LOGAN, Utah (AP) — Opponents are quickly discovering that generating offense against Utah State is a difficult task.
The No. 15 Aggies proved it again on their way to an 82-50 victory over UTSA on Monday night. It did not take long for the Roadrunners to get overwhelmed on one offensive possession after another.
Utah State (5-0) dominated the inside, outrebounding UTSA 55-36, and outscoring the Roadrunners 46-16 in the paint and 38-8 in second chance points. It meant fewer looks at the basket and tougher shots overall for UTSA.
The Roadrunners (0-5) shot just 29% from the field. They were the fourth straight Utah State opponent to shoot under 40% on their field goals.
“That’s just what we want our identity to be,” senior guard Sam Merrill said. “With all the hype and the expectations and the rankings, we understand that we’re still not even the most talented team. We got to play the right way and I think that’s what we’ve done these last four games.”
Merrill scored 21 points, including five 3-pointers, to lead the Aggies. Diogo Brito added 17 points and Brock Miller chipped in 10 for Utah State.
Justin Bean and Alphonso Anderson each had 11 rebounds to set the tone on the glass. Bean also dished out a career-high five assists.
Jhivvan Jackson scored 15 points to lead the Roadrunners. Erik Czumbel added 12 points and Keaton Wallace added 10. Jackson and Wallace both shot under 30% from the floor.
Points were in short supply largely because Utah State effectively blanketed the perimeter. UTSA just went 7-of-30 from 3-point range.
“We’re kind of a perimeter based team right now and we need to find ways to get better shots and easier shots and attack the rim off the dribble,” Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said. “Their length certainly bothered us in there and they stayed up on Keaton and Jhivvan. Even the shots they made were pretty contested.”
Merrill scored three of Utah State’s first four baskets. All of those came from the perimeter, allowing the Aggies to carve out a quick 11-2 lead.
UTSA answered with a 14-2 run over a 4 ½ minute span. The Roadrunners took their first lead after Czumbel and Jacob Germany hit back-to-back baskets to put UTSA up 16-13.
It didn’t last long.
Utah State scored the next 14 points and didn’t look back. The Aggies scored baskets on five straight possessions, highlighted by Miller’s corner three and dunk off a steal on back-to-back possessions. UTSA missed 10 straight shots over a four minute stretch, which opened the door for Utah State to charge back in front.
“To play good defense, you obviously have to be fundamentally sound, but you have to want to do it,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “You have to that toughness and that edge to do that. We’ve demonstrated that we have that – both last year and this year.”
The Aggies ended any hope of a potential comeback late in the second half. Utah State scored baskets on six straight possessions, culminating in back-to-back 3-pointers from Brito and Alphonso Anderson, to take a 70-46 lead with 6:42 left.
Bean finished with double-digit rebounds for the fourth time in just five games. Eight of his 11 boards came on the offensive glass. The sophomore forward is averaging 11.0 rebounds through five games.
“That guy just has a nose to the ball,” Smith said. “You can’t explain it. It’s like a really good middle linebacker that seems to recover every fumble or is just always in the right place at the right time.”
Merrill moved ahead of Jalen Moore (1,634 points) for ninth-place in school history for career points. He has scored 1,655 career points and is averaging 17.4 points per game this season.
Utah State will get a truer test of its AP Top 25 status when the Aggies play LSU and North Texas in the Jamaica Classic on Friday and Sunday respectively.
UTSA: Erratic shooting and a flurry of turnovers kept the Roadrunners from upsetting a ranked opponent for their first win of the season.
Utah State: The Aggies imposed their defensive will around the basket and forced UTSA into taking lots of tough shots for 40 minutes. Utah State also kept up the pressure in disrupting the passing lanes. It helped the Aggies overcome intermittent shooting struggles.
UTSA hosts Wiley College, an NAIA school, on Friday.
Utah State faces LSU in the first round of the Jamaica Classic on Friday.
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