Johnson, Martinez help Utah State beat TCU 88-72 and halt 10-game March Madness slide

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Utah State was determined to do more than just make another NCAA Tournament. This time, the Aggies wanted to stick around.

Isaac Johnson made sure they would.

Johnson scored 19 points, including 12 straight early in the second half, and eighth-seeded Utah State shot 55% to pull away and beat No. 9 seed TCU 88-72 on Friday night and end a 10-game NCAA Tournament losing streak.

The Aggies (28-6) hadn't earned a March Madness victory since beating Ohio State 77-68 in overtime in 2001, and had endured opening-game losses four of the past six seasons. Players and coach Danny Sprinkle have heard more than their share of questions about their March futility and were determined to have something to show for this appearance.

“Coach came to me before the game and said ‘Shoot the ball, and be confident,’ so I took his advice,” Johnson said.

Ian Martinez scored 21 points to lead the Aggies, who will face top-seeded Purdue on Sunday in the second round of the Midwest Region.

“We have to continue to be physical (against Purdue) like were with this TCU team and then take care of the ball," Johnson added, "and, I guess, I can continue to shoot the ball and we’re confident in that.”

TCU (21-13) led most of the first half before the Aggies took the lead for good at 37-35 on Martinez’s 3-pointer with 3:22 left before halftime. Leading 43-37 at the break, the 7-foot Johnson took charge from there, making two 3-pointers along with two other baskets and a pair of free throws for a double-digit lead the Aggies steadily increased.

JaKobe Coles had 19 points and Emanuel Miller 13 for the Horned Frogs, who were trying for their third consecutive NCAA first-round win. TCU outrebounded Utah State 41-30 but shot just 36%, including just 29% in the second half.

“Tonight just wasn’t our night," TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. "We got off to a good start but still didn’t feel like we were doing what we need to do defensively. And as it went on, it’s (Utah State) continuing to get layups, continuing to out-execute us and simply put, we were outplayed.”

The Aggies shot well throughout but made 16 of 28 after halftime (57%), including five of their 10 second-half 3s. They were 8 of 19 from behind the arc and converted 14 of 15 free throws.

The Aggies also scored 19 points off 14 TCU turnovers and owned the paint 46-26.

Great Osobor added 13 points and seven rebounds.

But Johnson provided the key spark by scoring inside and out. He converted high lobs into easy layups, confidently fired consecutive 3s that fell and made all five free throws. Martinez made three 3s and 5 of 9 shots overall for his second 20-point effort in four contests.

BASKETS IN BUNCHES

Utah State started 4 of 13 shooting before making its next five and getting even hotter after that. The Aggies converted seven consecutive shots during another first-half stretch, following by several other points of multiple makes. Only twice in the second half did they miss consecutive attempts.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness