LOGAN — Utah State put together its most complete game of the season Tuesday night, ending a three-game losing streak in the process with a 79-60 victory over Air Force.
“(It was) our best sustained effort for quite a while — even better defensively than offensively,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said. “It’s easy to let down against those guys. … They make you grind it out every defensive possession. They don’t let you off the hook too many times.”
Junior do-it-all wing Jalen Moore paced the Aggies with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists, while senior guard Chris Smith filled up the stat sheet as well. Smith tallied 19 points and five rebounds, while also recording a block and a steal.
Trailing 24-19 late in the first half, USU used a 17-4 run over the final seven minutes of the first half and an 8-1 run in the first two minutes of the second half to build a 44-29 lead. The Aggies’ ability to break down the Air Force defense and drive to the basket, along with stifling defense, was key during the run.
“We were able to come out and guard the Princeton offense,” said sophomore guard Julion Pearre, who finished with 12 points and three assists. “Coach did a good job of getting us prepared and we came out and executed. We played how we should have been playing all year.”
With Smith in a bit of foul trouble early in the second half, Moore and point guard Shane Rector took over. The Aggies built a 25-point lead with 9:05 to play and never let the Falcons get closer than 19 the rest of the game.
Defensively, USU held the Falcons to just 36.8 percent shooting, including shutting down Air Force’s leading scorer, Trevor Lyons, who shot 0 of 9 from the field.
“I thought the key to the game was the defense out of our point guards,” Duryea said. “When you do that good of job on Trevor Lyons and don’t give him a field goal, that says a lot. … He’s their leading scorer and doesn’t get a field goal.”
Rector finished with 13 points and multiple highlight plays, including the final two points of the first half when he inbounded the ball off the back of Air Force’s CJ Siples and then kissed a circus shot off the glass for two.
“I thought he was crazy for doing that,” Pearre said. “He thought there was one second left on the shot clock, so he thought he had to get a quick bucket. He’s that kind of player, he can make plays like that.”
Despite playing against Air Force without the services of starting forward Lew Evans, who was out with concussions symptoms, the Aggies outrebounded the Falcons 41-32. USU also held a 32-20 advantage in points in the paint.
“We took a different mindset tonight. Going 0-3 in those last (three) games, that really changes everything,” Rector said. “We came out here determined to get a win. We were just ready to get this thing rolling and start trying to play better in conference.”
Next for Utah State is a road date with Colorado State at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Aggies will look to get back to .500 in conference play against the 10-6 Rams. USU will return home Jan. 19 against UNLV in a special “Blackout” game at 7 p.m.
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.