The Utah State Eastern men’s basketball season came to an unfortunate conclusion at the Region 18 Tournament last weekend.
USUE entered the tournament as a four seed and defeated College of Southern Nevada in the first round 70-45. The Eagles then found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout, losing 95-61 to the top-seeded Bruins of Salt Lake Community College.
USUE ended the season with an 18-12 record.
The Region 18 tournament was hosted by Salt Lake Community in Taylorsville. USUE entered the tournament with an 8-8 conference record after a crushing defeat at the hands of sixth-seed Colorado Northwestern. The loss placed USUE in the brackets against the fifth-seed College of Southern Nevada in the first round.
First-round vs. CSN
The Eagles were 3-0 against the Coyotes this season, but defeating the same opponent four times can be difficult. It wasn’t. Southern Nevada failed to generate any kind of offense in the first half. The Eagles took an early lead in the opening half thanks to two massive dunks from center Mabeny Naam.
Kurt Wegscheider then went on a mini run of his own, scoring seven straight points to give USUE an early 17-10 lead. The Coyotes committed 13 turnovers in the first half, and the Eagles seized on them to build a 19-point lead. The Eagles led 39-20 at the half.
The second half was much the same. The Coyote’s offense remained stagnant against the Eagle’s defense, and Southern Nevada continued to turn the ball over. The Eagles’ defense caused 23 turnovers, which the offense capitalized to build a lead as much as 26 points in the second half. The Eagles’ scoring was a team effort throughout the game, with four different players in double figures.
Guard Isaac Castagnetto led the way for USUE in both scoring and defense, finishing the game with 15 points and four steals. The win advanced the Eagles into the second round.
USUE was a huge underdog against the star-studded Salt Lake Bruins. Before the semifinal matchup, the Eagles were 0-3 this season against the Bruins and had lost five straight dating back to last season.
The Eagles were outmatched from the tip-off and the Bruins shot 54% in the first half to race to a 45-30 halftime lead. SLCC’s defense smothered the Eagle’s offense, with Salt Lake forcing 28 Eagle turnovers.
USUE’s offense was led by forward Dillion Sorenson and wing Wegscheider, each with 13 points. The Eagles shot 43% for the game. Despite the good shooting, turnovers killed the team’s chances throughout, and the Bruins’ high-powered attack was too much.
The USUE season had its ups and downs, with the Eagle’s offense being one of the teams weak points. The Eagles offense ranked 106 out of 140 junior college teams in the country in points per game, 119 in three-pointers made, and dead last in free throws made. They shot 66% from the line for the season. The team’s success rested on the defense, which ranked 27 in junior college in points allowed per game and 23 in the opponents’ field goal percentage.
Looking to next season, USUE will work on building its offense and reducing turnovers. The team had 14 freshmen this year, which suggests potential if players don’t transfer out. Last season, the Eagles had 13 players transfer over the summer. Such roster fluctuation is detrimental to any team.
The Eagles were seasoned by battle with some of the best teams in the country and they will be a tough team to beat next season if they can hold onto and develop their young core.
If the Eagles do that, then the 2022-23 season could be different from this one.