It wasn't pretty, but they'll take it. Utah State's Friday night 73-70 win over Weber State feels much better than the exhibition loss to Division II Cal State Monterrey Bay last Friday, and makes Wednesday's news of David Colette's defection a little easier to stomach.
Utah State survived a late run from a solid Wildcat team for a season opening win in Ogden. Chris Smith led the way for the Aggies with 19 points and seven boards, hitting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
The visitors trailed early, but put things together for the better part of the game before letting a double digit lead slip away over the final few minutes. Transfers Lew Evans and Shane Rector combined for 32 points off the bench, including some key free throws from Rector to seal the game late. It's a small sample size to make solid judgements, but there are a few things we can glean from the win.
Don't go changing
The Tim Duryea era has officially arrived and with that we finally get some ideas of what to expect going forward. Season openers can be misleading (ask Aggie football), but it also gives us some ideas of what's going to change on the court under the new coach. The early verdict? Not much.
Offensively, we saw a lot of the same sets although players did seem to have a little more freedom to attack off the bounce. The offense hummed during the middle of the game, but bogged down late with some awkward isolations. On the other side of the ball we played mostly man to man, and showed a little of the same 1-3-1 matchup zone we saw last year.
It makes sense. Utah State basketball has seen incredible success over nearly two decades and there's no reason for a complete overhaul, which was the logic between hiring Duryea in the first place. I anticipate he'll make some small tweaks here and there, opening up the floor a little and giving players more freedom to attack, but for the most part the focus will remain on running well drilled sets and playing tough man to man defense.
Island in the Sun
There were 38 fouls in this game and every Aggie big (except Quinn Taylor, who played five minutes) picked up at least two fouls. Elston Jones fouled out and Lew Evans ended the game with 4. A lot of this had to do with bad decisions on defense, but it was exacerbated by either an inability or unwillingness to double in the post. As a result, Jones and Evans were repeatedly left alone on an island to deal with a dynamic post presence in Joel Bolomboy.
Bolomboy finished with 20 points and foul trouble dictated the lineups the Aggies put on the floor. Early in the first half it seemed like an adjustment had been made, but the double teams didn't come frequently enough.Utah State doesn't have a single post player on the roster who looks like a stopper down low and the defensive rotations when the ball enters the post are going to have to get a lot better, especially when Evans and Jalen Moore share the floor.
Shane Rector had stretches in the game where he ate defenders alive. He took the ball to the rim, hit a few pullups, and found teammates for easy looks almost at will. He was also cold-blooded down the stretch, hitting two free throws in front of a hostile crowd to put the game away. All told he finished third on the team with 15 points and led the team with five assists.
The transfer had a good debut, but it was far from perfect. It took him 14 shots to get those 15 points, he turned the ball over three times, and he settled for too many bad jumpers.
The problem with a guy like Rector is that the same things that make him great are also his greatest weaknesses. His willingness to attack invigorated the offense, but also led to some inefficient mid-range pullups and turnovers.
Overall, Aggies should be happy with what they saw from Rector. If he can play under control and improve his decision making, he should have the starting job by the time Utah State hits conference play. He is a threat to penetrate on every possession and could be a game changer on both sides of the ball.
Things I like
- Lew Evans from beyond the arc. Two hours before every home game last year he was on the court working on his jumpshot, and it looks like it's paid off. 7-9 from the field and 1-1 from deep.
- Lew and Jalen on the floor together. Again, they'll need help in the post on defense, but the spacing on offense will be tough to defend.
- Grayson Moore. Doesn't show up a lot in the box score but is a smart player and looks like he'll be a good glue guy off the bench Jones' post game. He was limited because of foul trouble, but showed good touch with both hands.
- Attacking off the dribble from Smith and Rector. The two are friends off the court (I saw them at City Creek together. You don't go to City Creek with acquaintances) and have similar styles on the court. With the spacing all the shooters on this team provide, there should be abundant driving lanes.
Things I don't like
- Elston Jones catching the ball by the three-point line. He's not a threat to hit shots from out there which means his defender is dropping below the free throw line and creating issues for any action the Aggies are trying to run
- Perkins instead of Pearre down the stretch. Pearre is our best defender. He should be in.
- Jalen's struggles. He seems to either fade out of games, or try too hard to be involved. He played tight and his decision making wasn't great. Needs to find a rhythm and lead this team.
- Free throws. 9-15. Make them. Please
Despite Wednesday's news, Utah State fans have a lot to be excited about for the rest of the season. The team has a high ceiling if Duryea can fit the pieces together, it'll be interesting to see what tweaks he makes before the home opener on Tuesday.