MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) — Utah State might not have played its prettiest basketball of the season this weekend at the Jamaica Classic, but junior transfer Alphonso Anderson did, helping the 15th-ranked Aggies continue their best start in nearly 60 years.
Anderson scored 10 of his 19 points down the stretch, Justin Bean had a double-double and Utah State scored the final 11 points to beat North Texas 68-59 on Sunday night to win the Montego Bay division of the Jamaica Classic.
Bean finished 14 points and 13 rebounds and Diogo Brito added 15 points the Aggies. They have opened the season with seven consecutive wins for the first time since 1961-62, when they started 8-0.
“Our guys found a way to win,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “This isn’t gymnastics where you get style points for winning, the bottom line is to get the `W.’ We have a lot to improve on but our guys gutted it out.”
Deng Geu threw down a two-handed dunk in traffic and the Umoja Gibson made a layup to give North Texas (2-5) a 59-57 lead with 4:11 to play but the Mean Green did not score again. Bean tied it with a jumper 16 seconds later before Anderson added a short jumper and a layup to make it 63-59 with 1:37 remaining. North Texas missed its final seven shots.
“Alphonso Anderson was really, really good,” Smith said about the juco transfer. “He’s been a big-time spark plug for us all year, in particular the last two games.”
The game featured 12 ties, with the score knotted for more than 10 minutes, and 17 lead changes. Neither team lead by for than five points until the closing seconds.
Gibson led North Texas with 19 points.
“We should have won the basketball game, because we fought well enough to win the game for about 35 minutes to do it,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “We just didn't finish."
Utah State, which went into the game shooting 48% from the field, made 9 of 29 In the first half and the Mean Green went into the break with a 30-29 lead.
“They came out and played hard, as expected,” Anderson said. “We started out a little slow, just not being able to make shots that we usually make but we worked hard playing defense and fought out a tough one.”
GA GA FOR GEU GEU
UNT’s Deng Geu, a graduate transfer from North Dakota State, scored a season-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals. The rest of the Mean Green shot just 33%.
“Deng was extremely tough and was exactly what we needed him to be,” McCasland said.
BENCH AND BOARDS
The Aggies have outrebounded and held an edge in bench points every game this season. Utah State was plus-3 in rebounding and its reserves — led by Anderson and Brito — outscored UNT’s backups 34-9.
“Diogo Brito, we always say, is a Swiss Army knife,” Smith said. “He does so many different things for us. He can shoot, he can pass, he can dribble and he’s an excellent defensive player.”
Utah State starting point guard Abel Porter and Sam Merrill, the reigning Mountain West Conference player of the year, both suffered — and played through — ankle injuries on Sunday. Porter fouled out with six points in 15 minutes and Merrill finished with five points on 0-for-6 shooting. Merrill, who went into the game averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game, had scored in double figures in 29 consecutive games.
Utah State: It wasn’t pretty but the Aggies escaped Jamaica with two wins despite having trailed by as many as 18 points before rallying to beat LSU 80-78 on Friday and struggling against UNT’s tight defense on Sunday. Anderson averaged 21.5 points on 59% shooting and Bean, who was named tournament MVP, had back-to-back double-doubles.
North Texas: Coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons the Mean Green have lost five of their last six games and are averaging just 56 points per game during that stretch. Unless they can find a way to score more consistently, a third straight 20-win season seems unlikely.
Utah State: The Aggies travel to Moraga, California, to take on Saint Mary’s on Friday.
North Texas: The Mean Green have a week off before a short trip to down I-35 to take on UT Arlington on Dec. 2.