SAN DIEGO — With 17 seconds left in overtime in its first road game of the season, undefeated Utah State Men’s Basketball needed a clutch shot to get them ahead in a game that saw the lead change 15 times and tied 10 times.
With four seconds left, guard Steven Ashworth pulled up from just inside the arc and nailed the mid-range. The ensuing defensive possession allowed the Aggies to come out victorious and defeat the San Diego Toreros 91-89 to move to 4-0 on the season.
“Proud of our guys for finding a way to win that game,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “We were on our heels in the beginning of the game with some turnovers that weren’t typical of us, but we worked our way through it.”
Against Santa Clara, Ashworth suffered an ankle injury that looked to fans and coaches like a serious injury. It was unclear if Ashworth would play. Today, Odom credited the team trainer for her efforts.
“Leah did a great job and Steven did a great job. There were prayers about it, but Steven is a tough guy and it never surprises me,” Odom said.
Thanks to three players scoring 20 points or more, the Aggies are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2019, when they won their first seven games of the season.
To start the game, the Aggies found themselves down quickly 9-0 which was the largest lead of the game. Up to the 7:31 minute mark of the first half, the Aggies had eight turnovers and only 17 points trailing by six.
At the end of the first half, the Aggies got it within one and were down 30-31.
In the first 15 seconds of the second half, guard Rylan Jones picked up his second and third fouls of the game and didn’t check back until 21 seconds left in the game, where he only played three more seconds.
“Rylan was sick prior to this game for two days,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “He didn’t even practice so I wasn’t even prepared to have Rylan as much.”
Winning a game without one of your seniors, especially one that leads the team in assists is tough. Jones only played 11 minutes and finished with two points and three assists along with his three fouls.
In the second half, after continuous back-and-forth lead changes, the Aggies created some separation and went on a 6-2 run with just 35 seconds to play, but a 3-pointer by Eric Williams got the Toreros close. After San Diego fouled to get the ball back with a chance to tie it, Taylor Funk sunk both free throws to get the lead back to three.
But again, the Aggies couldn’t stop Williams. Williams hit a three with 3.2 seconds to go which would push the game to overtime.
Williams finished with 43 points on 13 for 20 shooting and 13 rebounds for the Toreros. The points were a school record for San Diego.
Overtime proved to be the icing on an excellent game. After back-to-back threes by the Toreros, the Aggies saw themselves down four points halfway through.
But five consecutive possessions with a point put the Aggies in position to win the game where Ashworth hit the game-winner with four seconds left and the ensuing possession for the Toreros resulted in a missed three, ending the game.
“Steve’s shot was big time,” forward Dan Akin said. “Being banged up, obviously, but to hit a big shot shows how much trust we have in him.”
It was a coming-out game for Akin who played 35 of the 45 total minutes. Akin led the team with 21 points and 15 rebounds with 5 of them coming on the offensive glass.
“We knew that it being the first road game of the year that it would be tough,” Akin said.
Taylor Funk had an excellent second half scoring 17 of his 20 points. He finished with 20 points on 5 for 10 three-point shooting, six boards and two blocks.
Max Shulga also had a great game with 20 points, shooting 5-5 from the arc and 6-7 overall, and dishing out five assists, while grabbing four rebounds.
The Aggies will return home to face Oral Roberts on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles had a Cinderella run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament to reach the Sweet 16 where they lost to the No. 3 seeded Arkansas after defeating the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, Ohio State and Florida.
USU and Oral Roberts will tip off Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 7 pm and will broadcast live on Aggie Radio 92.3 FM.
Featured image by Elise Gottling from the UVU game.