LOGAN — Utah State’s season-long offensive struggles continued Saturday night, at least until it was too late, and the Aggies lost at home and in back-to-back games for the first time this season, falling to former Big West foe UC Irvine, 73-63.
With starting center Elston Jones, the tallest person on the Aggies’ roster at 6-foot-9, USU knew it was going to have a hard time containing the oversized Anteaters in the post. UC Irvine’s starting center, Mamadou Ndiaye measures 7-foot-6, while his backup, Joannis Dimakopoulos, stands at 7-foot-2.
The Anteaters fed Ndiaye early and often — and knocked down shots from the perimeter when the Aggies collapsed inside — as the junior from Senegal finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Senior guard Alex Young led UC Irvine with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
As a team, the Anteaters shot 48 percent for the game, including 57 percent in the second half. Much of that was due to the 36-22 advantage UC Irvine had in the paint, including multiple dunks by Ndiaye.
Leading by five at the half, the Anteaters used a 10-0 run to build a 19-point lead, 56-37, with just 9:19 remaining. However, a 3-point barrage by the Aggies, sparked by sophomore Julion Pearre who had been struggling from deep, pulled Utah State within three with 3:28 to play.
Pearre finished with 15 points, and knocked down 5 of 7 from long range, to help the Aggies climb back into it. Forward Lew Evans also got in on the action, burying a pair of triples, including the one to pull USU within three of the Anteaters.
The Aggies couldn’t quite get over the hump, though, as Young and Ndiaye both contributed key buckets down the stretch.
Darius Perkins led the Aggies with 17 points, while dishing out four assists. Jalen Moore chipped in 10 points and eight assists, but went just 4 of 16 from the floor. As a team Utah State shot a mere 35 percent for the game.
Next up for the Aggies is Utah State’s annual holiday tournament. USU will play three games in three nights, beginning with UT Rio Grande Valley on Monday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m.
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.