Turnovers and lack of offensive power knocked out the Utah State Aggies in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 65-53 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
“They are an elite defensive team and we knew that coming in,” Utah State head coach Craig Smith said. “The turnover battle was going to be big. One of the pieces to eliminate losing is taking care of the ball. Tonight obviously that was our achilles heel.”
Both teams came into the game averaging around 73 points per game, but Friday was a low-scoring encounter. Utah State found itself with a small lead of 26-23 after the first half with junior forward Justin Bean as the only player from either team seeing double digits.
Texas Tech went 9-of-32 from the field during that period, but that 28.1% increased to 57% in the second half. Utah State’s largest lead was six points just over three minutes after the break. Up until then, Smith thought his team was doing a decent job holding the Red Raiders back.
“And then they go score on 11 of the next 12 possessions, that hurts you,” the coach said.
The game was close for the first five minutes of the second half. It was tied at the 15:42 mark but the Red Raiders didn’t trail for the rest of the day.
The 53 points scored by the Aggies were a season low for them, but their downfall also came from not being able to take care of the ball. Texas Tech scored 28 points off forced turnovers. The struggles Utah State faced were disappointing, but not surprising.
“We had too many turnovers, 22, they forced 16 turnovers a game on average,” Smith said. “We got some rookies back there, we have two true freshmen in Rollie Woster and Steven Ashworth and that’s been a bit of an issue for us this year.”
Three Aggies scored in double figures with Bean leading with 13 points. Redshirt junior guard Marco Anthony and junior center Neemias Queta picked up 11 points each. Queta completed a double-double by also adding 13 rebounds to his stat sheet.
Overall, Smith said he liked a lot of what he saw from his team. He said defending was good for the most part and that the Aggies made the Red Raiders truly earn their points.
He was also proud of the season as a whole. This Utah State roster had seven freshmen and eight total new players. The Aggies began their journey 0-2 but cleaned up enough to make it to the Mountain West Tournament championship game. The Aggies finished the 2020-21 season with a 20-9 overall record.
“These guys overcame a lot,” Smith said. “Really stood together and just grew as a team. They just grew as men, grew as leaders.”
Texas Tech will take on the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in the South Region.