No. 25-ranked Utah State heads home Saturday for its first Mountain West Conference game at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, hosting Fresno State in Logan, Utah.
The Aggies (8-1, 1-0 Mountain West) went 1-1 on a Bay Area road swing, dropping a non-conference date with perennial West Coast Conference contender Saint Mary’s last Friday, then rallying from a sluggish start Wednesday to down San Jose State 71-59.
Playing without 7-foot center Neemias Queta — who sustained a knee injury over the summer representing Portugal in the FIBA U20 European Championship and has yet to play this season — Justin Bean emerged on Wednesday to help fill the interior void.
Bean recorded a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Although significantly shorter than Queta at 6-foot-7, Bean has been big in keeping the preseason Mountain West favorite Aggies at the forefront of the conversation through one month.
He is averaging 15.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, providing a nice interior complement to Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, Sam Merrill. Merrill is averaging 17 points and four assists per game.
Following the 81-73 loss at Saint Mary’s on Nov. 29, Bean touted the benefits of the tough non-conference challenge before diving into Mountain West play earlier than usual.
“We will get better from this,” Bean, who scored a career-high 24 points in the defeat, told the Herald Journal. “We will take it upon ourselves to learn from this and become a better team because of it.”
Saturday’s matchup with Fresno State (2-5, 0-1) is both teams’ last non-conference game in 2019. The Mountain West tipped off the league slate earlier this season than in years past as a result of moving up the conference tournament a week.
Fresno State comes into this matchup off of a heartbreaking 81-80 loss in double-overtime to UNLV.
Four Bulldogs scored in double-figures in the loss — none of whom were this season’s leading scorer, Jarred Hyder.
In two games since returning to the lineup following a nine-day absence because a hip flexor injury, Hyder has scored seven and four points. He had at least 20 in each of the three games before the injury.
Noah Blackwell with 18, Mustafa Lawrence with 16, and Nate Grimes and Orlando Robinson each with 12 picked up the slack against UNLV. However, Bulldogs coach Justin Hutson lamented to the Fresno Bee after the game the points Fresno State left on the board at the free-throw line.
“You get separation making foul shots,” he said. “You go down and you work as hard as you can on the defensive end, and then you get a miss and they just come over and get it from you.”
The Bulldogs shot 20 of 28 from the free-throw line on the night, but just 4 of 8 in the overtime frames.
Fresno State’s offensive identity this season has been its 3-point shooting. No team in the nation attempts more as part of its offense, at 55.9 percent of field goals shot, per KenPom.com advanced metrics. The Bulldogs rank third nationally in point distribution behind the arc.
Utah State opponents are shooting 32.8 percent from long range. Offensively, Utah State has been remarkably efficient. The Aggies rank in the top 100 nationally for both 3-point percentage (35.3) and two-point shooting (52).
They commit turnovers on just 16.2 percent of possessions, 31st-best in the country. Fifty-eight percentage of their field-goals made come off of assists, with that unselfishness translating into four players averaging in double-figures.
Alphonso Anderson at 13.1 points and Diogo Brito at 10.9 points per game join Bean and Merrill in averaging double-digit points.
–Field Level Media