LOGAN — When you account for the many circumstances working against Weber State men’s basketball in its opener Friday night in Logan, it’s easy to see where the Wildcats might have entered disadvantaged.
WSU was without preseason Big Sky MVP and senior guard Jerrick Harding, who is still rehabbing a foot injury discovered a few months ago. The Wildcats entered the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, with its raucous student section, to face a Utah State team ranked No. 17 nationally after winning the stronger Mountain West last season and returning loads of talent — including defending MW player of the year Sam Merrill, a Bountiful native.
Weber was breaking in a new offense against its first Division I opponent to open the regular season and had eight players available, with Bouki Diakite and Judah Jordan also sidelined. The Aggies got their jitters out Tuesday by surviving a scare from Harald Frey and the Montana State Bobcats. Ken Pomeroy’s formula favored USU by 15 with a 91% win probability.
And still, it was jarring just how overpowered Weber State was.
Justin Bean’s energy and a stifling defense led a huge first-half run and the Aggies sprinted to an 89-34 blowout victory.
“We got down 14-6 and, for the next eight minutes defensively, we lost all of our rules and got too spread out. When we got behind, we panicked a little bit, we got frantic, which sometimes in the first game, you see that stuff,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said.
“Against a veteran team like this, that’s really good, they’re going to make you pay. And they made us pay.”
Weber State went most of the first half without a field goal after opening with a 6-4 lead on 3-pointers from Kham Davis and Israel Barnes.
When Kuba Karwowski threw down a dunk 12 minutes later, Utah State led 24-8. Donatas Kupsas ended the field-goal drought for WSU with a 3-pointer, but it didn’t stem the tide.
Moments later, Bean finished one of his three and-one plays of the first half by slamming home a missed Merrill 3-pointer while being fouled, all but blowing the roof off the Spectrum.
At 33-11, the rout was on.
Weber State was disjointed and a half-move too slow offensively in the first half, unable to produce good looks against an energized USU side.
The absence of big man Neemias Queta, working his way back from a knee injury suffered during summer national-team play, proved far less fatal for Utah State than Harding’s absence for USU as it enjoyed an advantage of a few inches at nearly every position, proving why the Mountain West is still on Aggie watch.
Bean, Brock Miller and Karwowski, the latter a legitimate 7-foot-2, joined Merrill in suffocating Weber State. The Wildcats shot 4 of 22 in the first half and turned the ball over 12 times, trailing 48-13 going into the locker room.
The Wildcats produced better looks in the second half and cut turnovers in half, but it only brought marginally better success. Despite continued WSU effort to the final horn, Utah State was simply too much.
“It wasn’t lack of effort ... our execution was really poor,” Rahe said. “Sometimes when you have that first game, you talk about first-game slippage, you worry about that a little bit in a tough environment. And it just exploded on us and we couldn’t get it back.”
USU students progressed from chants of “up by 30” to “up by 40” and, finally, on a Diogo Brito 3-pointer that made it 79-27 with five minutes left, “up by 50.”
Bean finished with 18 points, Merrill with 14, Brito with 12, Miller with 11 and Abel Porter with 10 to round out the Aggies in double figures. Utah State shot 37 of 67 (55.2%) from the field.
Kupsas was the lone Wildcat in double figures, scoring 10 points. Cody John and KJ Cunningham each added five points and WSU shot 10 of 46 (21.7%).
“We forgot to move the ball, we forgot our defensive principles,” senior guard Cody John said. “But at the end of the day, we’re playing hard and we’re going to get better.”
Weber State moves on to its home opener Thursday, Nov. 14, against San Diego. The Toreros are currently 0-1 after losing to UC Irvine.
“They’re going to get a lot better now because of this. We’ve got a chance to have a really good basketball team,” Rahe said. “It may not look like it tonight ... we don’t like it tonight because it sucks, it’s hard.
“But a couple weeks down the road, we’ll look back and say it might’ve been the best thing for us right now so the kids can see what they need to do to get better. And they will.”