Road Woes, Late Game Execution Remain Question Marks For Utah State
LOGAN, Utah – Despite an 9-0 start, Utah State will need to overcome some disturbing trends if they hope to make an NCAA Tournament bid in 2023.
When the Aggies are clicking offensively, they can be one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
Heat Check from Funky Town 🔥🔥🔥
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) January 14, 2023
Taylor Funk’s 14.1 points per game leading a starting five with three double-digit scorers. Max Shulga (12.1) and Sean Bairstow (10.9) round out a balanced starting unit.
Behind them sit one of the highest scoring bench units in the nation.
Sweet-shooting Steven Ashworth leads a bench mob that averages 30.3 points per game, 17th in the country. Prior to a nine point performance against Nevada, USU’s 31.5 points per game off the bench was 12th best in the country.
.@USUBasketball bench scoring has fallen from the best in the country to merely 17th, averaging 30.3 ppg 🏀
— Brian Preece (@bpreece24) January 14, 2023
The Aggies have seven players shooting better than 35 percent from deep. The nation’s second-leading three-point shooter, Ashworth leads the group with 61 threes and a 51.3 percent success rate. Bairstow isn’t far behind, connecting at a 44 percent mark, though on only 34 attempts.
The problems for Utah State has been two-fold.
Problem two is that, in-spite of the Aggies shooting ability, the offense has gone strangely quiet on multiple occasions without a consistent ‘Plan B’ when the three-point shot isn’t falling.
Good Teams Win On The Road
Despite being 8-1 at home, the Aggies have been decidedly pedestrian in road games. Their 2-2 record on the road belies problems bubbling under the surface.
In one true non-conference road game against San Diego back in November, USU prevailed 91-89 but needed overtime to do it.
The Aggies wouldn’t play another true non-conference road game, instead facing San Francisco and Loyola-Marymount in neutral site games before traveling to Hawaii for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
In Mountain West play, USU handled Air Force 77-65, looking like the early road struggles may have been an aberration.
Four days later in Boise, the Broncos ran Utah State off the floor. Less than a week after that, it was the same story in Reno.
Boise State and Nevada deployed a similar defensive strategy. Extend the perimeter defense, trap ball-handlers and run shooters of the line.
Utah State shot under 40 percent from the field in each loss while hitting a dismal 35 percent from three.
For the Aggies to reach their preseason goals, they’ll have to find a way to shoot closer to their 51.1 percent and 56 percent from deep averages they have enjoyed in Logan.
One Bad Stretch
In the Aggies most recent loss to Nevada, they were even at 64 with 7:42 left.
Nevada took advantage of a silly Trevin Dorius foul that sent him to bench for the rest of the contest, taking control of a tie ballgame with a 19-0 run.
Against Boise State it was a similar story. The Broncos used a 10-0 first half run to build a lead. After halftime, a 13-4 run allowed BSU to put the game out of reach early in the second half. 35.5 percent shooting and just 2-of-13 from deep in the first half dug the Aggies too deep of a second-half hole.
In Hawaii against SMU, the Mustangs frenzied defense forced uncharacteristic mistakes limited the Aggies first half attack. USU shot 30.6 percent in the first half, making just 5-of-20 threes.
In perhaps their most perplexing loss of the season, USU gave up an 18-point lead, including a 14-point second half advantage in a loss to Weber State. It was a bad second half this time for the Aggies as they shot 30.1 percent from the field and 3-of-15 from beyond the arc.
USU welcomes in UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (12-4, 1-3) on Tuesday, January 17. Tip-off for this game is scheduled for 7 p.m. (MST) On Saturday, January 21, the Aggies will see the San Jose State Spartans (12-6, 3-2) come to town for a 4 p.m. (MST) matinee.
Every Utah State basketball game can be heard on the KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard on the call.
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