The ball was moving and finding the open man. —Utah State head coach Tim Duryea
LOGAN — Forget about waiting until next year to turn over a new leaf. The Aggies got a head start on a fresh start, five days ahead of the normally reserved date for hope-filled resolutions and goals.
Utah State looked like a new team in its Mountain West Conference opener against San Jose State, rolling to an 86-72 win by taking care of the basketball and creating turnovers Wednesday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Reenergized and recommitted after a few days of break, the boys in white-and-navy placed a beatdown on the Spartans at home.
Utah State’s ability to protect the basketball was crucial. The Aggies (8-6 overall, 1-0 MWC) didn’t turn the ball over until they were over seven minutes into the game. The home team kept the pace with its cautious ball-handling; its second turnover of the night happened with 15:46 left on the clock and the Aggies up 57-37. USU tied its season-high with 23 assists and had a season-low four turnovers.
“The ball was moving and finding the open man,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said. “When that happens, you get a lot of really good looks. The 23 assists really just tell the story.”
One of Duryea’s concerns during his team’s preseason was scoring the basketball. As of late, the Aggies seem to be on the right track offensively. Wednesday marked the third-straight game in which Duryea’s boys have netted at least 86 points.
A pair of Aggie role-players shined. Diogo Brito created easy opportunities with his quick hands on the defensive end, as he finished with a career-high five steals. Brito’s three thefts in the first half all resulted in easy layups for USU. Dwayne Brown Jr. was an efficient 7 of 10 for 16 points, 14 of which came in the first half. Brown sank his first attempted 3-pointer of the evening and played with confidence.
Brito’s all-around game sparked his teammates. The athletic sophomore scored 11 while dishing out a career-high six assists. Brito made all of his buckets and helpers look easy — the native of Portugal played under control and didn’t force anything. He was a thorn in the Spartans’ collective side all night long.
“I put my hands into it whenever they drove it and just tried to read their eyes,” Brito said when asked about his steals. “With the prep that we had before the game, I knew where those opportunities would come.”
The break did Utah State well, as the Aggies came out fresh and focused.
USU scored a season-high 44 first-half points. Twelve of those came on fast-break opportunities, and the Aggies scored 36 on the break in total. Conversely, the Spartans (3-9, 0-1) struggled to generate points against USU. A 7-1 stretch towards the end of the first half pulled SJSU within 38-27, but the Aggies responded with a 7-0 run of their own to end the half.
USU’s relationship with the Spartans has been one-sided. With the win, USU has now taken 26 consecutive contests against SJSU in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The last time the Spartans escaped Logan with a win was back in 1982. The Aggies have now won 26 of their last 28 conference openers.
Four different Aggies scored in double figures. In addition to Brito and Brown Jr., the Aggies' two-headed monster of Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill dented the scoreboard consistently.
McEwen led the way with a season-high 24 points and Merrill added 18 despite his banged-up and heavily-taped right wrist. McEwen has reached double figures in scoring in 12 of his last 13 games.
“We were excited for league play,” McEwen said. “We wanted to reverse what we did last year. Instead of starting 0-1 we wanted to start 1-0. The guys were pumped up and I was pumped up.”
Ryan Welage and Jaycee Hillsman had solid nights for the Spartans in the loss with 22 and 18 points, respectively.