Sports Journalism Blog

By Jaela Johnson | @jae_jamirah

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – The Utah State Aggies, a team that returned zero points from its roster last season, won its first NCAA tournament game in 23 years, defeating TCU, 88-72, late Friday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

The Aggies (28-6) ended the school’s 10-game tournament losing streak through its defensive momentum, willingness to make hustle plays, and an ability to limit second chance points. Utah State will meet top-seeded Purdue on Sunday afternoon in the school’s second appearance in the round of 32 since the seeding process was introduced in 1979. The Aggies hope to advance to a regional semifinal in Detroit for the first time since 1970, when they lost to eventual national champion UCLA in a regional championship game.

Utah State first-year coach Danny Sprinkle created a new roster after making NCAA tournament appearances at Montana State in each of the last two years. The 10-game losing streak became a thing of the past.

“Yeah, we don’t talk about it,” Sprinkle said. “I’m proud of the tradition that we have at Utah State. Yeah, there’s been some – they haven’t won a tournament game, but we’ve been to the tournament a lot, a lot more than a lot of other teams.

“It’s so hard to win a tournament game,” he went on. “Yeah, it takes some luck, but it takes guys making big-time shots and big-time plays like tonight.”

The Aggies made 55% of their shots and had its record improve to 20-1 when scoring at least 80 points. Ian Martinez, a senior guard, scored 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Sophomore center Isaac Johnson scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Utah State outscored TCU in the paint, 46-26, and led for 25:17.

TCU (21-13) were led by junior forward JaKobe Coles, who scored 19 points. Senior forward Emanuel Miller had 13 points with 11 rebounds. At the start of the second half, still within six points, the Horned Frogs drew closer. A 3-point shot by Coles brought them within 47-44 with 17:14 to play. But an 8-1 run over a span of 2:28 gave the Aggies a 57-47 lead.

Graduate guard Darius Brown II finished with 10 points and 10 assists. Brown’s total of 224 assists this season tied the school record set by Kris Clark in 2008.

Johnson was dominant for much of the second half, scoring 14 of his 19 points. “It’s more so just my mindset and belief in myself,” Johnson said. “That’s something I have really been working on….There’s been a bit of a mental battle going on and this year has really taught me how to believe in myself and have that confidence in myself. And it’s been such a great help to have my teammates and coaches have that confidence in me.”