Comeback falls short in final seconds for Utah State men’s basketball

The Aggies lost to San Diego State in a pivotal Mountain West Conference game.

(Eli Lucero | AP) Utah State guard Steven Ashworth reacts after forward Dan Akin was called for a foul against San Diego State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Logan, Utah.

Logan • The Utah State Aggies men’s basketball team had all the momentum heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the No. 25 San Diego State Aztecs.

They had been winners of three straight games. They got two votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. The university and fans were rallying behind Ukrainian guard Max Shulga, who had endured the heckling of Colorado State fans chanting “Russia” at him just a few days prior.

But the Aggies couldn’t withstand the hot first-half shooting from the Aztecs, or the lack of overall rhythm of a game mired by a combined 36 fouls and seven technical fouls. They couldn’t finish off a comeback that took them to within just one point with 10 seconds left and the ball.

The Aggies lost 63-61 to the Aztecs. dropping them to 8-4 in the Mountain West Conference. A win would’ve put USU in a three-way tie for first place in the conference. Now USU sits in fourth place in the conference behind Boise State, Nevada and San Diego State.

San Diego State guard Micah Parrish gestures to the crowd after the team's win over Utah State in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/Eli Lucero)

“We still had a few opportunities to make some plays, and [it] didn’t quite go our way tonight,” guard Steven Ashworth said.

Ashworth scored a team-high 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting and added six assists and five rebounds. Forward Taylor Funk had 11 points and nine rebounds.

USU shot just 38.5% from the field and 26.3% from the 3-point line. The Aztecs, on the other hand, shot 48.6% and 38.5%, respectively.

The Aggies came into Wednesday’s rivalry game projected on the NCAA Tournament bubble as one of the Next Four Out teams, per ESPN’s latest bracketology. It was their previous three wins that put them in the picture to begin with.

With the loss to San Diego State, they may have put themselves back out of the picture. But with six games left in MWC play, a lot can happen. That was coach Ryan Odom’s message after the game.

“We’ve had a great season, and there’s more out there for us,” Odom said. “We just have to go attack it and go forward. But we can’t worry about what others say or bubble or this or that. It doesn’t matter at this point until Selection Sunday happens.”

Utah State guard Max Shulga (11) drives against San Diego State guard Lamont Butler during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/Eli Lucero)

Shulga’s shot with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game missed to the right on a sequence that the Aggies have run for him before and has been successful in the past. He caught the ball near halfcourt, took his defender one on one, dribbled to the left elbow and tried a step-back.

Ashworth said he liked the shot Shulga got.

“We didn’t execute quite as well as we would have hoped, and we’ve executed it better in the past, but we trust Max in that situation,” Ashworth said. “I was definitely confident that Max was going to hit that but it didn’t drop.”

Aztecs guard Matt Bradley led his team with 18 points, while forward Jaedon LeDee had 14 and Micah Parrish had 12.