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From Oregon’s athleticism to Justin Bean’s legacy: 5 observations from Utah State’s NIT loss

Steven Ashworth scored 20 points to lead the Aggies

(Eli Lucero | The Herald Journal via AP) Oregon guard De'Vion Harmon (5) dribbles the ball as Utah State guard Steven Ashworth (3) defends during the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday in Logan.

Logan • There were a lot of things stacked in Utah State’s favor in the first round of the NIT. The Oregon Ducks had to travel to Logan to play the game and were missing two key starters — leading scorer Will Richardson and leading rebounder N’Faly Dante — and had lost four of their last five games.

Despite all this, the Ducks proved to be too much, overwhelming the Aggies in the second half and coming out on top 83-72. The loss cuts USU’s season short, leaving it with an 18-16 record — its first season without 20 wins since 2017-18.

Here are five observations on the loss that ended Utah State’s first season under head coach Ryan Odom.

1. Second-half struggles

Despite a rough start that saw Oregon go up 10-2 early on, the Aggies put together a solid first half. On two separate occasions, USU went on 11-0 runs. The first of those took them out of that aforementioned 10-2 hole. The second time it put the Aggies up by nine, its largest lead of the evening. When USU went into the locker room at halftime, it led 37-33. The Aggies were shooting a respectable 45.2 percent from the field and were overachieving beyond the arc by going 7-for-16 on 3-pointers.

When the Aggies came out of that locker room they apparently left that efficiency behind. They shot just 32.4 percent from the floor and were 2-of-12 from distance in the second half.

“We got away from our style of play,” senior forward Justin Bean said. “We’re at our best when we’re sharing the ball and our spacing’s really good. And we didn’t really have that tonight for whatever reason. We just didn’t space the floor. We didn’t attack closeouts.”

As bad as the offense was, the defense was uglier and Oregon took advantage by scoring 50 points in the second half alone. Bean said as much but in kinder words.

“Offensively we weren’t great, but I think defensively is where they took over,” Bean said. “We weren’t filling up the gaps like we planned and with their athleticism they were getting downhill on us.”

2. Ducks in the paint

If there was one key to Oregon’s offensive success, it was scoring in the paint and at the rim. Whenever Oregon wanted to get into the paint for a shot, it got into the paint and got a shot off. Post-ups resulted in point-blank hook shots, guards slashed into the paint at will. In all, the Ducks scored 48 points in the paint and attempted more than half of their shots (33 of 65) at the rim.

In the first half, Utah State managed to contain Oregon’s offense, but in the second half the Ducks adjusted their gameplan. Odom discussed the changes he saw Oregon head coach Dana Altman make.

“He opened it up,” Odom said. “He was running his — we call it a Creighton Offense — they were screening, two-cut stuff. And then he just scrapped that a little bit and went to just a straight driving game. He was pulling us away and they were getting around us too much. We weren’t filling it up enough. First half we did a better job at that.”

The catalysts for Oregon’s offense were its two guards, De’Vion Harmon and Jacob Young. The two scored 19 and 17 points, respectively, and broke down the Aggie defense time and time again in the first and especially in the second half.

3. Ashworth a solitary bright spot

When Steven Ashworth checked into the game for the first time, the Aggies were down 10-2. Less than two minutes later, the former Lone Peak guard had led an 11-0 run with nine of those points to his own credit.

Ashworth immediately made an impact with a 3-pointer on his first possession in the game. On the other end — where Oregon had yet to miss a shot — Ashworth did it himself by swiping the ball away from Quincy Guerrier. He then finished the play on offense with a second straight triple. A 6-0 run by Ashworth himself in the span of 27 seconds. Those plays, in the words of Odom “settled some of the other guys down.” They paved the way for the halftime lead the Aggies would eventually hold.

In his first stint in the game, which lasted seven minutes, Ashworth scored 12 points and had four assists. Bean said that Ashworth “single-handedly got us back in the game in the first half.” Ashworth finished the night as the game’s leading scorer with 20 points and had five assists as well. He featured as the lone bright spot in a long night.

4. Justin Bean’s forgettable finale

Bean capped off a remarkable Utah State career and spectacular senior season with an unfortunately poor performance.

Much like USU’s first-half shooting percentages, Bean’s amazing season-long shooting marks (56.6 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from three) didn’t mean a thing on Tuesday. He shot just 2-for-12 from the field with a goose-egg in the 3-point column. His only reliable scoring method was the free-throw line, the five free throw makes (on six attempts) accounting for more than half of his nine total points.

This performance won’t take away from the numerous accomplishments Bean managed in his time in Logan. He ranks near the top in multiple areas of Utah State’s record books. He’s second in all-time rebounds (1,027), is second in career double-doubles (47) and holds two of the top ten single-season rebounding marks.

After the game, Bean fought back tears and emotion trying to put into words just how much his experience at Utah State meant to him.

“I came here as a walk-on and you don’t see many places that take guys like me in and support you and love you. Before I was this type of player they brought me in, truly. I cannot, I have no words to say just how much I appreciate Aggie nation.”

When he checked out of the game, fans chanted “One more year!” in hopes that Bean — who has one remaining year of eligibility — will stay in Logan as opposed to declaring for this summer’s NBA Draft. The odds of Bean staying in Logan aren’t high, but aren’t zero. An underwhelming finish may convince the fan-favorite forward to stay one more year.

5. Postseason failures continue

While Utah State has seen considerable success in its conference tournament games (which can technically be counted as postseason games), success afterward has been less plentiful. The Aggies remain without a win in the NCAA Tournament or NIT since 2001, having lost their last 14 games combined in those two events (five in the NIT, nine in the NCAA Tournament). The one bout of postseason success came in 2012 when the Aggies made it to the championship game of the CIT (and lost to Mercer).

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