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Utah State uses another strong second half in 74-53 win over UNLV, advances to Mountain West Tournament semifinals

The Aggies on Friday will play the winner of Fresno State vs. Colorado State.

(Isaac Brekken | AP) UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton (13) shoots as Utah State center Neemias Queta (23) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference men's tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Utah State junior forward Marco Anthony sprinted up the floor on defense, blocked Caleb Grill’s shot from behind and was able to save it from going out of bounds by flipping it behind his back to a teammate. On the ensuing offensive possession, Anthony dished a bounce pass to junior center Neemias Queta for a floater in the paint.

The sequence was indicative of a roaring second half effort by the Aggies, who beat the University of Nevada-Las Vegas 74-53 on Thursday to advance to the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals. The Aggies will play the winner of Fresno State vs. Colorado State, which tipped off late Thursday.

Utah State lately has become a second-half team. It led by three against Wyoming before securing a blowout. It trailed by 10 against Fresno State before eking out that game. And it was tied at 24 with UNLV before coming out fast to start the second half on Thursday.

Aggies coach Craig Smith isn’t sounding the alarm just yet with the team’s first-half performances of late. But he is aware of them.

“It’s always a concern,” Smith said. “At the same time, it was exciting to see us figure some things out. And hopefully we continue that momentum into tomorrow [Friday].”

Utah State stayed in the game in the first half with solid defense and went on a run to secure the tie. But it had eight turnovers, some players missed point-blank shots, freshman Rollie Worster led the team in scoring, and — possibly most surprising — it was getting outrebounded.

But it was a different Aggies team to start the second 20 minutes. They scored 24 points in just the first eight minutes alone. At one point, they had 10 assists and zero turnovers. Junior guard Brock Miller started making big shots after missing all four in the first half.

“The meeting in the second half was about taking it up another notch and we did that,” Anthony said. “That led us to the win against a very talented team.”

Anthony finished with 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. He jokingly said the rebounding uptick was due to him missing a dunk and then hanging on the rim with one hand while trying to put the ball back in the basket with the other. He received a technical for that — the first of his career.

“That was bad,” Anthony said with a laugh after Smith said he had forgotten about the sequence.

Anthony said the slow first halves are a concern for Utah State, but added that he believes the issue isn’t permanent.

“Of course it’s a concern,” Anthony said. “But I believe it’s something that is not set in stone. It’s something that we can fix, and it’s just a matter of time before we do that.”

Queta had another one of his signature games, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Worster had 14 points and junior forward Justin Bean finished with 10.

“We had to settle down and trust ourselves and go play basketball,” Smith said of the second half.

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