There’s a point in every action movie where the hero is supposed to die. Whether it’s John Wick or Woody and Buzz in Toy Story 3, there’s a point where you are absolutely certain the end is near. Except it never is. The hero always makes a miraculous escape and goes on to slay the beast/stop the villain/be rescued by a giant claw and then staple the villain to the front of a semi.
So, logically, it follows that Utah State men’s basketball is basically John Wick, right?
There’s been multiple points this season where Utah State looked to be all but dead, simply waiting for a coroner to make the official pronouncement. Losing the season opener to Weber State, losing 83-79 to a Portland State currently ranked eighth in the Big Sky Conference, giving up a game-opening 19-2 run versus Utah, and losing four games in a row to plummet down the Mountain West standings. We all remember those games, and we all remember the aftermath. Hope for Utah State’s season was in scarce supply.
Every time, though, USU resurrected itself and started throwing haymakers.
A largely-unseen tournament-style win over Northeastern and New Hampshire, a season-sweep of Fresno State, and a road win over a UNLV squad featuring a likely NBA lottery pick. We also remember all of those nights, when it seemed like, “hey, maybe this Aggie team *could* pull off something special”.
They still might. Saturday night featured USU pulling off their second stunning victory over Fresno State this season. Daron Henson drained the game-winning 3 with 0.2 seconds remaining, part of a 6-7 night from behind the arc to lead the Aggies with 18 points. With that, Henson became the sixth different Aggie to lead USU in scoring in a game this season. While this team has faults, it also has a plethora of weaponry. On any given night, an opponent may find itself at the mercy of any one of Koby McEwen, Sam Merrill, Dwayne Brown Jr., or even Quinn Taylor. There is a universe somewhere out there where USU catches fire in March and burns their way through the MW tournament on a magical run for the ages.
That existence might not be as far-fetched as we might think. All season, both players and head coach Tim Duryea have repeatedly stated that this is not only a great defensive team, but one of the best ever to play at Utah State. Yes, there have been games this season when that claim looks baseless. There are also times when that talk is fully walked by this team, such as twice holding Fresno State’s offense scoreless for the final four minutes of the game in order to come away with the victory and holding Air Force to their second-lowest point total of the season. March is a month of hot streaks, and this version of USU basketball has both the offense and defense to overwhelm teams.
That by no means guarantees that the Aggies will make it to their first semifinal in the MW tournament, let alone win the entire thing. There’s still a lot of “if” before we ever reach that stage, and asking this team to fulfill every “if” left this season is a tall order, but the simple fact that such a question is even worth asking despite the adversity this team has faced is tremendously hopeful.
Forward Alex Dargenton and guard Julion Pearre are the only two seniors on this team. Only four juniors litter the roster and one of them, forward Norbert Janicek, will be eligible for a medical redshirt and will return as a junior next season. This team is astoundingly young. What McEwen, Merrill, and others have accomplished sometimes makes us expect the best every single night, but such an expectation forgets that neither has been playing Division I basketball for more than two seasons at this point. Their growth to this point is remarkable, but they still have over two full years left as Aggies to continue to grow, and the majority of the team has that same privilege along with them.
Teams don’t magically become special. It usually takes years of planning and work, plus a healthy dose of luck, before that magic ignites. Maybe it is a little crazy to say that while a team is 12-11, a little naive, as well. Admittedly, even if the ingredients for the magic are there, the magic itself may never arrive.
Well, it certainly arrived on Saturday night at Fresno, and there’s a great deal of hope that more may be on the horizon. For an Aggie fan, that’s easily enough to keep rooting.