FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Aggies came up short at Colorado State, 77-72, as the Rams shot lights out from downtown and made free throws when it counted. The loss is the Aggies’ second in conference play and their sixth this season.
Utah State had the lead in crunch time with 4:37 left in the game, but it was the Rams that were able to close out the game with a 7-0 run and 10 straight free throw makes.
“Colorado State was able to make the plays that they needed to make in order to finish it out,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “They did a nice job of finishing it.”
The Aggies had highlight moments, especially during the second half, but they could not match the Rams’ firepower.
“We made some timely plays, just needed to make a couple more,” guard Sean Bairstow said.
Bairstow started in place of guard Brock Miller, who was out with a back injury, for the second time in a row. Bairstow shined for the Aggies, putting up a career-high 20 points, grabbing five rebounds and forcing four steals.
“Sean Bairstow had an excellent game,” Odom said. “Sean was awesome. I thought he was really good.”
He also led the team in minutes, playing 38 including the entire second half. When asked about his career performance, Bairstow was still focused on the team’s result.
“I just wish we won,” Bairstow said.
The Aggies charged back midway through the second half courtesy of guard Steven Ashworth. He put up all 13 of his points in the second half, including 10 points on five straight possessions. Seven of the 13 came from the charity stripe where Ashworth shot 7-8. On his only miss, the Aggies got the offensive rebound, and Ashworth sunk a 3-pointer on the second chance attempt. He also added a rebound, two assists and two steals.
Forward Justin Bean was a contributor but struggled against his counterpart David Roddy. Bean was also in foul trouble most of the second half after he picked up his third personal with 11:24 left in the game. Bean’s best minutes offensively came out of the gate in the second half as he put up six points on three possessions. After a questionable fourth foul call with little-to-no contact, Bean fouled out with 1:01 left in the game. It was the first time he had fouled out in his career. Bean finished with 14 points, six rebounds and a block.
“When your leader fouls out like that, that was tough. That’s a rarity for him,” Odom said. “He’s a veteran so I don’t worry about him for one second.”
Forward Brandon Horvath had a solid night for the Aggies, scoring four points off of two offensive rebounds. However, Horvath was not his usual self from beyond the arc. The 41.8% on the season three-point shooter missed all four of his attempts on the night. Horvath totaled 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Utah State had an unselfish strategy on offense. Four players scored over doubled digits. The Aggies had previously been undefeated this season, now 10-1, when three or more players scored in double digits.
What may surprise some fans is that the Aggies won the battle in the paint. Utah State outscored Colorado State 32-20 down low. However, it was the Rams that grabbed the most rebounds, 32-31.
The Aggies had some clear trouble points on defense. The perimeter defense was lacking in the first half. Utah State allowed seven 3-pointers in the first half but tightened their belt in the second allowing only three. They also struggled in transition allowing 15 points on the fast break.
“Just things that you have to learn from,” Odom said.
The Aggies got off to an early five-point lead, 10-5, thanks to good defense and strong finishes in the paint. Colorado State responded with a 14-1 run over three minutes fueled by four 3-pointers and a fast-break layup to build an eight-point lead, 19-11.
Utah State responded with a 6-0 run, but then Roddy took over. He scored six unanswered points by himself. He outplayed Bean, notably backing down him down with a spin move on a layup miss, grabbing his own board, and then muscling back Bean to hit a basket with 3:47 left in the first half.
The Aggies cut the first half lead down to six, 30-24, before Stevens drilled a buzzer-beater 3-pointer on a fast break to end the half.
Bean started out hot during the second half as he scored the Aggies’ first six points of the half by himself. Utah State slowly climbed their way out of a deficit from runs led by Bairstow and Ashworth. The Aggies took their first lead of the second half after Ashworth saved the ball from going out of bounds on a pass to Bean who sunk a mid-range jumper. Utah State led 62-60 with 4:37 remaining in the game.
Colorado State responded to the Aggies’ run with a 7-0 run of their own. They reclaimed the lead and held it the rest of the way as they nailed 10 free throws in a row.
“We did a nice job offensively in the second half of inching our way back in the game. We began to get to the free-throw line a little bit more,” Odom said. “For us, while it’s disappointing to lose in this fashion in such a tight game, you certainly have to draw from the positives.”
The loss drops the Aggies to 10-6 on the season, 1-2 in conference play. Utah State will return home to take on Wyoming on Saturday. It will be the Aggies’ first home conference game of the year.