Ian Martinez. Photo by Lorene Hale.

LOGAN — Utah State head coach Danny Sprinkle called his team’s matchup with Fresno State on Saturday a “gut-check” game, a chance to rebound from a loss earlier in the week. And the Aggies passed that gut-check with an 83-62 victory over the Bulldogs in front of nearly 9,000 fans at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

“I was concerned because I know how good Fresno is,” Sprinkle said. “I know how tough and physical they play, and we got out-toughed and [were less physical] at New Mexico. And I’m not shy to say that. And I thought our guys really answered the bell today.”

USU guard Ian Martinez echoed how much the team wanted to make sure they brought toughness and physicality.

“Being aggressive and toughness, that was kind of the bottom line,” Martinez said. “We have to be tougher. We have to go out there and get the first punch. Be the aggressors. The aggressors always win.”

The Aggies jumped out to some early four and five point leads to start the game, powered in part by Great Osobor’s 3-point shooting.

You read that right. His 3-point shooting.

Osobor – whose career downtown attempts across three seasons can be counted on fingers and thumbs – made two shots from deep in the first half, part his 7-for-7 start from the field shooting-wise. He had 18 of his eventual 20 points by the halftime break.

Sprinkle said he wasn’t sure how well Osobor would play, given he had hyper-extended his knee late in the New Mexico game

“I knew he’d play. I didn’t know how effective he’d be,” Sprinkle said. “He hadn’t done anything the last two days in practice, other than just a little bit of like light walkthrough. But he hyper-extend his knee pretty good at New Mexico. It was a gutsy effort by him tonight. And I appreciate it. I know his teammates do. Him playing through some of that pain.”

Keith Brown, who served as acting head coach for Fresno State with Justin Hutson not traveling due to sickness, had to praise Osobor’s efforts in the game.

“He’s a very versatile player and he can catch the ball in different areas of the floor, so it’s not as easy to keep it out of his hands,” Brow said. “And he’s a very willing passer.” 

Fresno State held the game within a couple of possessions for most of the first 10 minutes, courtesy of some good ball-screen and re-screen action that helped Isaiah Hill dish out plenty of assists, but as Osobor accumulated more of that 18-point first-half total, the lead began to climb into double digits, ending with a 13-point advantage at the break, 40-27.

The Aggies’ ball screen defense was something they had to pick up on during the game. It’s caused them trouble the last two games against UNLV and especially at New Mexico, and the Bulldogs were getting a few buckets here and there with it. Eduardo Andre got a few easy looks at the hoop on pocket passes from Hill and a few other guards were able to find open floaters in the paint off screens.

“The first 10 minutes, they dictated with their ball screen offense,” Sprinkle said. “Hill had some great passes to their bigs.”

In the second half, things began to pick up as Sprinkle made some adjustments and his players worked on hedging the screens and clogging up passing and driving lanes.

“The last 30 minutes, I thought we were tremendous,” Sprinkle said. “We came out, we were more aggressive. We hedged the ball screen and relied more on, on some help in some different areas.”

Defensive adjustments weren’t the only thing that had to be made heading into the latter half of the game. Fresno State came out of the halftime locker room running a 2-3 zone. Utah State initially struggled with the Bulldogs’ new defensive look, starting 0-for-3 from the field, committing three turnovers and scoring just one point for the first 3:15 of the second half.

Sprinkle opted not to call a timeout as the Bulldogs took the cold spell from the Aggies and used it to draw within four points early in the second half, 41-37. He felt the team wasn’t doing much inherently wrong and just needed to work through the rough patch.

“We were still getting wide open shots,” Sprinkle said. “We punched to the free-throw line and we missed a couple layups and chippies. We had a couple uncharacteristic turnovers. We tried to throw it into Great and we just bobbled it. And so it wasn’t like a scheme deal that I was like, ‘Hey, time out, we gotta get organized.’ Like we were still getting great shots.”

Utah State rewarded the patience of its head coach by going on a 12-4 run to respond to Fresno State’s rally, re-establishing a double-digit lead. Midway through the half, USU went on another big run to push the lead to 20 points and into blowout territory.

Osobor only scored two points in the second half, but despite that and the slow start, the Aggies ended up exceeding their first-half scoring total of 40 by putting up 43 in the final 17 minutes. Eight points apiece from Darius Brown and Josh Uduje in the second half, along with another seven by Javon Jackson, made up for Osobor not getting as many looks at the hoop.

Utah State will now get a week off as its next game will not be until next Saturday when it travels to face Boise State on the road. The rest in the meantime will be a boon for an Aggie squad that’s played a game every three or four days for the last three weeks straight.

“Yeah, we need it, we need it,” Sprinkle said. “There’s no nights off in this league, but you got to take advantage of [a break]. This will be the kind of the first time we have 48 hours off. We’re not going to bring the guys back until Monday afternoon and we won’t do much. We’ll do a little bit of skill and shooting, get them a sweat and get them a stretch and get them out of there.”

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