In Ryan Odom’s debut, Utah State Aggies unable to get defensive stops down the stretch in loss to UC Davis

Utah State coach Ryan Odom yells
Utah State coach Ryan Odom argues a call during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UC Davis on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Logan, Utah. | Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

After opening up Tuesday night’s contest against UC Davis with a 17-5 burst, USU struggled offensively much of the remainder of the game and ended up losing 72-69 in Ryan Odom’s debut. 

For Ryan Odom, it was a great start to his first game as head coach at Utah State, but a bad start to his first season with the Aggies.

After opening up Tuesday night’s contest against UC Davis with a 17-5 burst, USU struggled offensively much of the remainder of the game and ended up losing 72-69 in Odom’s debut.

“Obviously, not the result that we had hoped for going into our first game here,” said Odom, the former UMBC head coach who was hired in April to replace Craig Smith.

Utah State (0-1) shot just 36.1% as a team, including just 8 of 30 from 3-point range, against the UC Davis Aggies (1-0). The home team trailed 40-35 at halftime and by as many as nine points early in the second half before rallying back to the game at 61-61 with 2:19 remaining.

But the Aggies were unable to get the defensive stops they needed down the stretch as sophomore guards Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper combined to score nine of UCD’s final 11 points.

“We could not get the stop when we needed it,” Odom noted. “We did score enough down the stretch to be able to pull out a victory. You’ve got to give UC Davis credit. They did make some baskets right at key times right down the stretch there. That really hurt us, and gave them the chance to go ahead and win it.”

Senior forward Brandon Horvath (19 points, seven rebounds) led Utah State in scoring in his first game as an Aggie, while USU veteran Justin Bean (16 points, 13 rebounds) opened his senior season with a double-double. But while that duo went a combined 12 for 24 from the field, the rest of the team totaled just 10 field goals on 37 attempts.

Utah State also knocked down just 5 of 13 free throws in the second half with the game on the line after going 12 for 15 in the first half.

“You know, we just weren’t tough enough, like coach said in the locker room,” said junior guard Rylan Jones, a transfer from Utah. “We’ve got to be tougher. We were tough in spurts, not consistent. A big word of Coach Odom’s is consistency. We weren’t very consistent tonight. But, we’re going to learn from this, it’s one game.”

Horvath was the first Aggie newcomer to score in the game when hit a 3-pointer with 8:35 left in the first half. His former UMBC teammate, RJ Eytle-Rock, ended up going 2 for 9 for eight points, while Jones went 3 for 7 for eight points and added six assists. Jones, who played his freshman year at nearby Logan High, also took four charges in his first game as an Aggie.

“Obviously, it’s a tough first game of the year,” said Jones, who helped keep the Aggies’ hopes alive by hitting two 3-pointers in the final 69 seconds of the game. “It’s never good to lose at home, especially in the Spectrum with all these great fans that came to watch us tonight. Shout out to them. They’re amazing, they’re the best.”

UC Davis, which is a member of USU’s old home, the Big West Conference, won on the road despite shooting 39.7%, committing 19 turnovers and having two starters foul out of the game with more than three minutes remaining. But Jim Les’s squad proved resilient, had four players score in double figures and battled hard defensively after quickly abandoning the 2-3 zone they started the game with to shock the Spectrum crowd of 6,554.

“I’ll tell you, big-time plays at the end of the game from a number of guys,” Les said. “Elijah hit some big shots. Kane (Milling) kept us in the game in the first half when we were a little bit erratic and a little bit discombobulated. And then Ezra is as good of a closer as there is, and he loves the moment.

“It wasn’t his best game but the best part about him is he has a short-term memory and he forgets everything that happened and he’s gonna close and we trust him and we’re gonna put the ball in his hands.

Pepper finished with a team-high 16 points for UC Davis, while Manjon, the team’s leading returning scorer from last season, ended up with 12 points and eight rebounds after a quiet start.

The Aggies were able to build their early 12-point lead thanks to the shooting of senior guard Brock Miller, who buried two 3-pointers and a deep jumper in the first four minutes. But Miller, who is battling back issues, didn’t notch another field goal the rest of the game.

And Utah State, despite the early lead, failed numerous times to finish around the rim early in the first half, failing to capitalize on easy opportunities that would prove critical as the game wore on. Meanwhile, the UC Davis Aggies settled in, capitalized on some turnovers by the home team, and ended up putting together a 15-0 run that suddenly changed the complexion of the contest.

While there were two ties and three lead changes late in the first half, UCD took a five-point lead into the locker room thanks to a 3-pointer by Kane Milling with seven seconds left.

It appeared to be more of the game early in second half as the UC Davis Aggies pulled away for its biggest lead of the game at 47-38 with 16:35 to go. But the Utah State offense did increase dramatically for a time, with the Aggies finishing easy attempts around the rim, unlike in the first half.

A nice baseline hook shot by junior center Trevin Dorius, who missed much of the preseason with a foot injury, gave Utah State a 54-52 lead with 9:50 remaining, but that proved to be the biggest lead of the second half for the home team.

“I felt like our guys came out in the second half, at least offensively, and played our style of basketball,” Odom said. “We did get some good looks. And to end up with 17 assists, 16 turnovers, it was a solid, solid effort for us, especially considering where we were coming from at halftime with 12, only had four in the second half.

“This team’s got the ability to score in bunches, and we’ve just gotta play tougher, and we talked about that after the game. Our team is tougher than we played today.”

The Aggies now hit the road for their next three games, beginning with a contest against Richmond on Friday at Annapolis, Maryland, where Odom lived while he was the coach at UMBC.