Season’s beatings: Utah State is 2-0 in MWC after 85-52 rout of San Jose State

After a gift exchange, the Aggies give their coaches something special with the victory over the Spartans.

San Jose State guard Seneca Knight (13) has his shot blocked by Utah State center Trevin Dorius (32) as forward Justin Bean (34) helps defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

The Utah State men’s basketball team organized a white elephant gift exchange after Wednesday’s 85-52 win over the San Jose State Spartans. Coach Craig Smith said in his 25 years of coaching, he’s never seen a basketball team do that.

Junior center Neemias Queta ended up with a Golden State Warriors cap because, as he said after the game, he’s “the one with the least caps.”

Smith got an inkling about the white elephant exchange soon after arriving to The Spectrum for the game. After he gave his thoughts on the win, he asked the players where the coaches’ gifts were.

“They said, ‘We got the win,’” Smith said. “And I’m like, ‘OK that’s the best gift I guess we can get at this point.”

Utah State’s rout of San Jose State came in Game 2 of the miniseries between teams that looked and felt different from Monday’s first game, but the result was the same. The Aggies improved to 2-0 on the season in Mountain West Conference play and 5-3 overall.

Junior guard Brock Miller led the Aggies with 12 points. Queta had nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Freshman point guard Rollie Worster added 15 points and three assists.

Sophomore guard Sean Bairstow chipped in 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench.

Utah State never trailed. It got off to a 13-3 lead and held that double-digit margin throughout. The defense went up a notch in the second half, when the Aggies pulled away and built a 35-point lead at one point.

The Aggies really shined on the defensive end. They held the Spartans to just 23.4% shooting from the field and an icy 20% from the 3-point line. USU, conversely, shot 42.9% from the field.

“Overall I think we did a really good job of shutting them down,” Queta said.

After Monday’s huge win, the teams had just a 24-hour period to make whatever adjustments they wanted to make. San Jose brought Richard Washington off the bench after he led the team in scoring on Monday. The Spartans also changed their defensive coverage on Queta, opting to guard the Portuguese center with Hugo Clarkin.

The Aggies made their adjustments, too, and theirs translated to their second blowout win in a span of three days. Two-game series will be the norm this season in the MWC in order to limit travel and avoid COVID-19 infection.

The situation will make for a miniature version of an NBA playoffs, where adjustments game to game are paramount. But the difference might come down to what team is the right mentality and can have the shortest memory.

“It’s just going to be a battle of the mindsets,” Queta said. “Whoever has the mindset to come in every day and just come in ready to play no matter what happened the game before — it’s just that. You have to be ready every day to come in and be ready to play.”

In the two games agains the Spartans, the Aggies have had the luxury of playing extended garbage time minutes where younger players have gotten minutes. Smith likes his group of players and seemingly tried to take advantage of moments where he could see how they can help the team.

“I do feel like we have the deepest bench that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Smith said. “Maybe that hasn’t exactly shown yet, but we have some talented guy on this team. So you’re just trying to see what they can do and how they can do it.”

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