by Daniel Olsen
Utah State is used to being a bubble team since they returned to form in the Mountain West four years ago. They knew that a loss would be detrimental to their hopes for an at-large bid into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which is why it was refreshing for them to earn a 65-55 road win over the Wyoming Cowboys.
First Half Highlights
The Aggies rode the early offense of Max Shulga. He made two early threes in impressive fashion. Overall, the team would shoot just 25.9% from downtown, but the Aggies found other ways to win.
The Aggies were on the wrong side of an early double digit lead in their last game, so it was promising when they rushed to a 17-8 lead. However, the Pokes would chip away and go into halftime with the score evened out at 33-33.
How the Aggies pulled away
While Wyoming did jump out to an early three-point lead in the second half, it would be a fleeting one and their largest lead of the game. After the TV timeout, Steven Ashworth would score a three to tie up the game at 40-40 with just under 15 minutes to go.
While the Aggies would then go over five minutes without a made field goal, Ashworth continued to lead the offense as he made all five of his free throw attempts during that stretch.
The absence of Graham Ike continued to hurt the Cowboys which was an advantage for the Aggies as they converted five layups in the last ten minutes of the game. Statistically, both teams struggled to make shots. However, the Aggies found a way to convert 41 percent of their shots from the field while Wyoming managed only 31 percent.
Only a couple bubble teams helped the Aggies with losses on Tuesday night: Miami beat Virginia Tech and Missouri beat Mississippi State. The rest of the bubble teams all found success. What the Aggies really need at this point are Quad 1 wins. The selection committee bases the quality of wins on the NET ranking of opponents. Wins on the road are graded more leniently than wins on a neutral or home court.
The problem for the Aggies is that their best conference wins have been at home. Their best win is arguably over Nevada, who also won their game over San José State last night. It is a double-edged sword though, because the Wolfpack is currently a half-game ahead of the Aggies in the conference race. Would the Aggies rather jump to a two or three seed and avoid San Diego State until a potential championship game? They could do that, or they could gain a coveted Quad 1 win to give them a better shot at a tournament berth. Another Quad 1 win could be a possibility if they can beat Boise State in Logan next Wednesday. That will be the regular season finale and Senior Night for the Aggies.
By the Numbers
The Aggies are currently ranked 33 in the NET, 35 in KenPom and listed as the first four out of ESPN’s latest mock bracket. They currently have a 94 percent chance to crack the NCAA tournament, even though their chances of an auto bid are only 18 percent according to Team Rankings.
Steven Ashworth is on pace to have one of the best shooting careers in Aggie history in terms of percentage. His 88.7 percentage from the free throw line would rank second all time if the season ended today, and his 41.2 three point percentage would rank ninth.
The Aggies are now 5-0 when holding their opponent to under 60 points. They will have eight days off until they travel to Las Vegas to take on UNLV next Wednesday.
Featured image courtesy KSL