Utah State upsets No. 13 Colorado State to move to 14-1 on the season

Utah State forward Great Osobor, center, celebrates with players and fans after the team’s win over Colorado State in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
Utah State forward Great Osobor, center, celebrates with players and fans after the team’s win over Colorado State in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP) | AP

LOGAN — The number 13 was lucky for the Utah State Aggies and extremely unlucky for the Colorado State Rams Saturday night.

Utah State secured its 13th straight victory by knocking off 13th-ranked Colorado State 77-72 in front of a boisterous crowd at a sold-out Spectrum.

“I’m happy for the university and for the fans and all of the kids who came back early from Christmas break. They deserve it,” said USU head coach Danny Sprinkle, who had to change into a USU hoodie for the postgame press conference after finding himself in the middle of an enthusiastic court storming by Utah State students.

“Aggie Nation always shows up, and so they deserve things like this, so I’m happy that our players could do that for them.”

The victory over the Rams (13-2) was the first for the Aggies (14-1) over a nationally ranked team since Sam Merrill and company memorably upended No. 5 San Diego State in the championship game of the 2020 Mountain West tournament, and it was the first home victory over a ranked opponent since USU’s upset of No. 12 Nevada in March of 2019.

Utah State, which trailed for the majority of the first 30 minutes, started a 10-0 run with just over nine minutes left that took them from two points behind to a 65-57 advantage in a span of just over five minutes.

Although many Utah State students have yet to return to Cache Valley ahead of the start of the new semester on Monday, the Spectrum was still packed with 10,270 souls.

“Spectrum magic is real; it’s real,” USU guard Josh Uduje declared. “Great (Osobor) and I were told about it before we even played a game here, and tonight we really did see it. The crowd was amazing ... and I think they really helped kickstart our run, honestly.”

Osobor led the way for the Aggies with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while freshman guard Mason Falslev finished with 18 points and six rebounds.

Uduje came off the bench to add nine points, and center Isaac Johnson contributed eight points (six of which came on two 3-pointers) and eight rebounds, with much of that production coming during USU’s game-altering run in the second half.

“Thank goodness he’s 6-11-and-a-half because he needed all of it to get over (the defender) on his second 3-pointer,” Sprinkle pointed out with a grin, “and I was even more proud of his rebounding. He had some big-boy rebounds down there in the second half.”

Utah State managed to take out the No. 13 team in the country despite shooting a mere 28.1% as a team in the first half. But thanks to the Aggies’ still being determined defensively, they managed to close a 10-point deficit down to just four points by halftime.

Senior point guard Isaiah Stevens closed out the first half with a pull-up jumper at the buzzer to make it 32-28, but the CSU star was relatively quiet offensively until the game’s final moments.

Still, the Mountain West preseason Player of the Year ended up with a team-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers, and eight assists.

Senior guard Nique Clifford and senior forward Patrick Cartier added 18 and 15 points, respectively, but CSU’s big trio also missed some key attempts during USU’s 10-0 stretch, and Clifford and Cartier both ended up fouling out.

“We had an opportunity to maybe have a bigger lead in the first half. We were guarding really, really well, and then in the second half it was just the opposite,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said.

“Our defense really kind of fell apart. Too many mistakes. We lost our discipline and we had some guys that, maybe because they were in foul trouble, were maybe playing a little bit tentative defensively, and you can’t do that because that was not good enough.”

Colorado State ended up shooting 44.4% for the game and went 8 of 24 from 3-point range, but the Rams were a dismal 4 of 11 from the free-throw line.

The Aggies, conversely, finished 20 of 23 from the charity stripe, with Osobor going a perfect 8 for 8.

“Obviously, we got outscored by 16 from the free-throw line,” Medved noted. “A lot of that is we have to make them and we have to play with more physicality, and that’s what happened.

“Disappointing because I thought we had an opportunity tonight. They executed better than we did down the stretch.”

The Aggies, who ended up shooting 63% in the second half, pulled away by as many as nine points with just under two minutes remaining.

The hosts then survived a frenetic comeback attempt by the Rams to stretch their winning streak to 13 games, the sixth-best run in school history.

Picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West preseason poll after turning over nearly the entire roster, the 2023-24 Aggies have tied the 2012-13 team for the third-best start in school history.

Only the 2008-09 team, which started 24-1, and the 2003-04 squad that opened the year 20-1, have gotten off to a better start than Sprinkle’s first team at Utah State.

When asked where Saturday’s victory ranks in his head coaching career, Sprinkle was quick to note that winning two Big Sky tournament titles while at Montana State are the “biggest.”

“But, you know, beating the No. 13 team in the country is pretty big,” added Sprinkle, who was able to do in front of both of his parents.

“That’s a heck of team that we just beat,” he added. “They’re No. 13 in the country for a reason and they gave us everything we could handle, so I’m just really proud of our guys and the effort that they gave.

“We talked a lot about Colorado State making runs — they’re too good of a team — but I thought we responded, and our guys were terrific.”