Utah State Overcomes Nightmare First Half To Beat Broncos In Semifinals

Mar 11, 2023, 12:22 AM | Updated: 1:05 am

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – One of the country’s top offensive teams relied on their defense to turn the game around as Utah State advanced to the 2023 Mountain West Championship game with a 72-62 win over Boise State.

#3 Utah State (26-7, 15-5) took on #2 Boise State (24-9, 14-6) in a 2023 Mountain West Championships semifinal on Friday, March 10.

Taylor Funk’s 32 points led four Aggies in double figures as USU never trailed in a 91-76 quarterfinal win over New Mexico.

Boise State nearly blew a 22-point lead before rallying in overtime for an 87-76 win over UNLV to reach the MW semifinal.

RELATED: Taylor Funk’s Season-High Leads Utah State To Resume-Building Win

These teams split the season series. In early January, Utah State suffered its largest margin of defeat of the season in an 82-59 blowout. The Aggies took their revenge when Boise State went to the Spectrum, picking up their fifth-straight victory with an 86-73 win. It was their first, and only, Quad One win this season.

Max Shulga led four Aggies in double-digits with 19 points. Steven Ashworth reached 1,000 career points, scoring 14 on the night. RJ Eytle-Rock came off the bench to score 13 and Sean Bairstow finished with 12. Despite an off shooting night, Taylor Funk added seven points and a team-high ten rebounds.

Naje Smith and Marcus Shaver Jr. led Boise State with 14 points apiece. Tyson Degenhart finished with 13 points in the loss.

First Half

Boise State made 4-of-7 shots, opening an 10-6 lead as the Aggies missed their first four attempts from deep.

Sean Bairstow stepped up as the offense struggled, scoring six points to keep Boise State from opening up a lead. USU started 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Fortunately for the Aggies, the Broncos seemed to be playing half a step slow, perhaps a side effect of last night’s overtime win. Boise State held a 14-13 at the second media timeout.

An old-fashioned three-point play from Bairstow erased Boise State’s lead, tying the score at 16.

The Broncos made the game’s first run, frustrating the Aggies into a series of turnovers that resulted in a 6-0 streak to open up a 26-18 lead. USU committed seven turnovers that Boise State turned into ten points in the opening 14 minutes.

RELATED: Mountain West Regular Season Honors Announced, Steven Ashworth Named To First-Team

Unlike their quarterfinal win over New Mexico, Utah State’s half court offense couldn’t generate any consistency. USU went 7:38 without a field goal as Steven Ashworth and Taylor Funk battled a physical Broncos defense.

After starting 0-for-5, Ashworth hit back-to-back massive threes with Boise State threatening to seize momentum and pull away. The second triple gave Ashworth eight points in the half and 1,000 points for his Utah State career.

Nine points apiece from Tyson Degenhart and Naje Smith helped Boise State to a 36-28 halftime lead. Bairstow led the Aggies with nine points.

USU shot 37.5 percent (9-of-24) and 20 percent (3-of-15) from deep while turning the ball over ten times.

Second Half

Funk’s first three was quickly followed by Ashworth’s third as Utah State attempted to make a second-half run.

Both teams began to ratchet up the intensity with foul trouble becoming a factor. Funk, Ashworth, Shulga, and Bairstow had three fouls each for the Aggies. Boise State starting center Lucas Milner sat for an extended stretch after picking up his fourth foul. Two other Broncos had three fouls each midway through the second half.

Boise State held a 46-43 lead with 10:51 to play.

RELATED: Utah State’s Steven Ashworth ‘100% Focused’ On Mountain West Tournament

Utah State took it’s first lead, 51-49, on two free throws from RJ Eytle-Rock after the senior guard drew the fourth foul on Degenhart with a tough drive to the basket.

An Eytle-Rock three forced Boise State to call a timeout as the Aggies surged to a five-point lead with 6:20 to play.

USU’s defense held the Broncos without a field goal for 7:52, allowing the Aggies to go on an 19-4 run down the stretch.

Back-to-back Shulga threes gave Utah State a 62-53 as Boise State began to unravel.

Boise State was limited to 27.6 percent (8-of-29) shooting and 1-of-9 from deep in the second half as USU outscored the Broncos 44-26.

Utah State advances to the 2023 Mountain West Championship game with a 72-62 win.

Up Next

#3 Utah State advances to their fourth MW championship game where they will face #1 San Diego State (26-6, 15-3). The title game is scheduled to tip off at 4 p.m. (MT) on Saturday, March 11. This game is broadcast on CBS.

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. 

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Utah State Overcomes Nightmare First Half To Beat Broncos In Semifinals