Utah State forward Justin Bean grew up a 10-minute drive from the University of Oklahoma’s campus. When he played games against his brothers, they pretended they were the Sooners’ stars: Hollis Price, Quannas White, Kevin Bookout, Taj Gray.
The way Bean has opened his senior season, there will probably be some kids in a Logan driveway pretending to be the Aggies’ star.
Bean ranks in the top 10 nationally in both scoring (No. 6, 24 points per game) and rebounding (No. 4, 13.8 rebounds per game) after leading USU to a 73-70 win over his hometown Sooners this weekend to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
“It definitely means a lot to me. This is one of the most iconic moments for sure in my career at Utah State,” Bean said afterward. “I don’t take these moments for granted.”
Bean scored 24 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds to help USU beat Oklahoma on Sunday in the championship game. He was named the MVP of the tournament, before earning his second straight Mountain West Player of the Week award on Monday.
The Aggies trailed for most of the second half. Then Brock Miller hit a 3-pointer for a 67-66 lead with 1:46 remaining. Miller sank another triple a minute later to make it a 70-66 lead. After a pair of free throws, the Sooners were within 70-68 and were forced to foul. Bean made 3 of 4 from the line to wrap it up for Utah State.
“During those last four minutes, we really did come together and trust each other,” Bean said.
The win felt like an NCAA Tournament game to Bean. “It did feel like that type of environment,” he said. And it may be a significant victory for the Aggies come March. Oklahoma is a Top 50 team in the KenPom rankings (45) and a nice early addition to the Ags’ resume.
Utah State is now 4-1 to start the season, and Bean has been no small part of his team’s success early in the year.
“I put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Bean said. “I feel like that confidence has stemmed from a great coaching staff, who has helped me get to where I am at this point. They’ve helped me become a completely different player to be honest.”
“It’s like Wilt Chamberlain,” first-year head coach Ryan Odom joked after watching the forward record another double-double against the Sooners. “It’s crazy.”
Utah State led 32-30 at halftime then Oklahoma opened the second half with an extended 20-11 run. During that stretch, Odom looked to Bean to find another level.
“Literally the first thing you notice about Justin is his motor and his willingness to go after the ball and put his body in there,” Odom said.
USU’s new head coach, though, wants the former walk-on to think like a go-to player for his team, stretching defenses with his shooting and putting the ball the floor to create at the rim.
“He’s obviously developed things in this offseason that have really added to his game and he’s not afraid to go for it in those instances — and he has his coach’s blessing to do that,” Odom said.
The Sooners led 57-50 at the nine-minute mark but four quick points by Utah State forced an Oklahoma timeout. Oklahoma maintained the lead but Utah State was within 64-62 after Miller score in the paint with 3:03 to go. The teams traded baskets before Miller hit the 3-pointer to give the Aggies their first lead of the second half.
After the victory, Bean said he would take just a moment to reflect on the win and his journey to this point in his career.
“I probably should,” he said. “Knowing me, I’m usually go, go, go. I don’t usually think things through a lot. But at this point, just being a senior and having so much love and respect for my team and knowing how much it meant for them, I’m definitely going to take it in and enjoy it. Then it’s back to work.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.