Logan • The Utah State Aggies looked like a completely different basketball team — against the same opponent.
But the Aggies sung a different tune Tuesday at the Spectrum, beating the Falcons 72-47 for their second win in the last three games. Air Force is now 0-12 all time against USU in Logan.
“They punked us at their place,” senior guard Sam Merrill said of the Falcons. “They had some fun with it, which they deserved to have some fun with the ways they beat us down. So we were definitely ready tonight, that’s for sure.”
The Aggies won the rebounding battle against Air Force, 45-34. Two weeks ago, the Falcons had a 50-29 advantage on the glass. USU also prevailed in paint points, a measure Air Force won in the last meeting.
Utah State also held a normally good-shooting Falcons team to just 29.4% from the field.
“I thought our defense was very disciplined,” coach Craig Smith said.
Merrill became the fourth all-time leading scorer in school history. He had 15 points, five rebound and there assists.
“It means I’ve played a lot of games,” Merrill said with a laugh. “But just, to this point, grateful for the opportunity to play for Utah state and to contribute in any way that I can.”
Sophomore center Neemias Queta finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while sophomore forward Justin Bean recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Four USU players had double figures.
Smith said he challenged Bean on Monday. Bean said Smith told him to clear his mind, play hard and play his game. What resulted was Bean’s best game in weeks.
“It’s the first time he’s really looked like Justin again,” Smith said, adding that Bean has been playing with some injuries recently.
The Aggies held a 20-13 lead when coach Craig Smith argued a call and received a technical foul. The ensuing two free throws and a basket by the Falcons cut USU’s lead to 20-17.
But immediately following that, the Aggies went on a big 25-7 run that spanned both halves and broke the game open. They never looked back.
Smith said his technical foul wasn’t planned, but he acknowledged that it helped galvanize his team.
“The guys were fired up the whole time. They were ready to compete,” Smith said. “And honestly, maybe it [the technical foul] just settled them down a bit.”
Merrill had a slightly different opinion about what effect Smith’s technical had on the team.
“I think maybe at that point we just decided [to] take on the attitude of our coach and let’s be fiery and let’s go play,” Merrill said. “[We] did a pretty good job of that.”
Neither team had a particularly efficient first half, as each shot under 33% from the field. The Aggies held the 32-21 advantage mainly because they outrebounded the Falcons and made more free throws and 3-pointers.
The Aggies got off to a quick 9-2 start, aided by Queta’s opening 3-pointer. It was his first make —and attempt — of the season at that distance.
Queta did most of his damage in the first half. But he felt ill toward the end of the second half, Smith said, and slowed down a bit.
Utah State improved to 15-6 overall and 4-4 in the Mountain West Conference.