Utah State is improving, but the Aggies still have a long way to go to be the powerful team they were last season.
The Aggies are currently holding a 1-3 record and are fresh off a 67-64 loss to the BYU Cougars. They started the season playing three different teams in a span of three days at the Bad Boy Mower Crossover Classic in Sioux, Falls, S.D.. They lost to VCU and South Dakota State before getting their first win of the season against Northern Iowa.
Head coach Craig Smith has accepted that there will be growing pains.
“You play three games in three days with a lot of new guys, I thought we got better although there was a lot of ugliness in there,” he said. “In particular the last game and a quarter or so.”
The ugliness didn’t disappear for the fourth game of the season. The BYU game was a winnable one, but it was a great example of what Utah State is like in the post-Sam Merrill era.
Smith, who is still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, said one of his biggest concerns going into the game was his team being able to defend. The effort wasn’t the best in the first half, but Utah State was able to hold the Cougars to 31% from the field during the second half. The defense did a decent job overall, as BYU was averaging 80 points per game before Saturday. The offense is a different story.
The Aggies were down by 10 points at halftime, but a jumper by Rollie Worster tied it at 58-58 with 5:15 left on the clock. The game had an even score a couple more times, but Utah State couldn’t get ahead. This is when Merrill could’ve come in handy. Part of the inability to get the lead was missed free throws, but there were also a couple wide open looks that the clutch-shot specialist could have easily made.
The team as a whole shot at 36% from the field, 15% from deep and 69% from the charity stripe. Are these acceptable stats? No, but this doesn’t mean the team is doomed.
“We were just missing shots, I feel like all the shots that we took were great shots and unfortunately they just didn’t go into the basket,” guard Marco Anthony said. “That happens sometimes, but that’s why we really have to lock into the defensive end. I believe that we did that pretty well, just have to score more.”
The redshirt junior, who sat out last season after transferring from Virginia, scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Anthony, who is averaging 13.8 points through the first four games, is expected to be one player to watch this season on the Aggie roster.
The player who is most expected to lead the team is Neemias Queta. The 7-foot center showed what he is capable of doing during the South Dakota State game, going 6-8 from the field, which translates to a 75% shooting percentage.
Queta isn’t expected to shoot 75% all the time, and he didn’t come close against BYU. He led the Aggies with 18 points but went 7-for-18 from the field. Last season he was a 62% shooter, slightly better than the 61% during his freshman year. Queta, like the rest of the team, still has plenty of time to find his footing.
“You gotta have amnesia, you just gotta keep playing as hard as you can, and everything will take care of itself,” Anthony said.