Terrific First Half Carries Utah State To Win Over Air Force

Jan 3, 2023, 9:08 PM | Updated: Jan 4, 2023, 5:31 pm
USU senior forward Taylor Funk dunks against Santa Clara at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Monday, November 14.

LOGAN, Utah – Air Force put up a fight but couldn’t overcome the 21-point first half lead Utah State built on their way to a 77-65 win over the Falcons.

The Aggies (13-2, 2-0) took on the Air Force Falcons (9-7, 0-3) on Tuesday, January 3 at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Utah State opened conference play the same way they closed non-conference action, with a victory. The Aggies started their conference slate with a hard earned, 67-54 win over the visiting Fresno State Bulldogs.

The Falcons have opened Mountain West play with consecutive losses after going 9-4 in non-conference action. Air Force lost at San Diego State before falling at home, 75-69 to the Nevada Wolfpack on New Year’s Eve.

Four Utah State players finished in double-figures with Taylor Funk’s 16 leading the way. Steven Ashworth scored 15 and added a team-high eight rebounds. Max Shulga and Sean Bairstow each chipped in 11.

Jake Heidbreder paced the Falcons with 19 points in 36 minutes. Ethan Taylor added 14 points in the loss.

RELATED: Utah State Buries Fresno State With Late Second-Half Run

First Half

Utah State took advantage of a pair of early offensive rebounds as they shot out to a 5-0 lead out of the gates. Trevan Dorius and Sean Bairstow each picked up an offensive board with Bairstow finishing with an and one opportunity that he converted.

Bairstow added another bucket for his fifth point before the first timeout.

After scoring just four points in the Aggies win over Fresno State, sixth-year graduate senior Taylor Funk went 3-for-5 for six points in his first seven minutes.

RELATED: Utah State Knocks Off Washington State, Mountain West Play On Horizon

After jumping out to an 18-11 lead, Utah State took advantage of a more than two minute scoring drought for the Falcons to go on a 6-0 run and build an early 13-point advantage.

During the Aggies hot start, the Mountain West’s leading scorer and three-point shooter, Steven Ashworth, hit a pair of threes.

Bairstow’s hot start abated but Max Shulga took over the scoring load with five quick points, two rebounds and an assist.

Shulga came up with the rebound and hockey assist that led to a thunderous Dan Akin alley-oop dunk from Bairstow.

USU scored on nine straight possessions, building a 37-18 lead with 3:56 left in the half.

Late in the half, it was sophomore forward Zee Hamoda’s turn to add some scoring punch. After leading the Aggies in scoring with 13 against the Bulldogs, Hamoda added nine first half points.

Utah State took a 44-28 lead into halftime.

Second Half

Out of the break, Shulga became the first Aggie to reach double-figure scoring with a deep three.

Following that shot, two USU turnovers keyed a 7-0 Falcon run, allowing Air Force to cut the lead to 49-37 with 16:29 left.

Following a timeout, Funk broke the Aggie drought by hitting a three to put USU up 15 again.

One Air Force basket later, Akin broke free for a ferocious dunk.

Second-chance points bit Utah State when Air Force took advantage of an offensive rebound, swinging a pass to Ethan Taylor who knocked down a three. The basket brought Air Force within 10, 54-44.

Minutes later another Taylor three brought Air Force within seven, 56-49.

RELATED: Cold Shooting In Paradise Leads To Utah State Loss

Utah State would go scoreless for more than five minute4s, a streak ended with an Ashworth three that came when the Aggies needed it most. Leading 56-49, Hamoda came up with an offensive rebound that allowed USU a second chance. Rylan Jones would find Ashworth for a big three that seemed to shift momentum.

Funk added his second three of the game moments later, putting the Aggies back up by double-figures.

Over the next three minutes, both teams would combine to miss eight shots and turn the ball over twice, battling mistakes as much as each other.

The cold stretch continued with neither team able to find the bottom of the net for an extended stretch.

Akin ended a 4:51 USU scoreless streak with a free throw to give the Aggies a 66-56 lead with 1:53 left.

After two Ashworth free throws put USU up 12 with 1:43 left, Akin put emphasis on a sure Aggie win when he emphatically rejected Jake Heidbreder, sending the shot into the stands.

Utah State hit their free throws down the stretch, overcoming a series of Falcon threes to win 77-65.

USU was held without a field goal for the final 8:39. Their last 15 points came from the free throw line.

A Look Ahead

The Aggies head to Boise, Idaho where they will face the Boise State Broncos (11-4, 1-1) on Saturday, January 7. Tip-off for this game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. (MST) and will be broadcast on FS1.

Boise State beat San Jose State 67-64 on Tuesday night.

Next week, Utah State hosts Wyoming on January 10 before traveling to Reno, Nevada to take on the Wolfpack on Friday, January 13.

Every Utah State basketball game can be heard on the KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard on the call.

Coverage of Utah State University Athletics from KSL Sports can be found here. 

  • Utah State Aggies Scoreboard

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  • Utah State Aggies Standings

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Terrific First Half Carries Utah State To Win Over Air Force