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After first MWC win of the year, Aggies exhale: 'We needed that one really badly'

Published January 5, 2017 7:00 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • On a frigid, snow-packed Wednesday night in Logan, the Utah State Aggies busted out of the icy run of form they found themselves stuck in these last two weeks. In front of a sparse mid-week crowd, the Aggies snapped that pesky three-game losing streak — not to mention chalking one up in the Mountain West Conference win column.

Utah State's first game of 2017 turned out to be one to finally build momentum upon. The 79-75 win over the New Mexico Lobos not only avoided losing three straight at home for the Aggies, but flipped the script on what has been a painstakingly familiar tune this year: A failure to close out late-game scenarios.

But they did Wednesday night.

"That was a great win for us," USU coach Tim Duryea said, "we needed that one really badly."

Four Aggies scored in double figures and USU drained 10 3-pointers in the victory.

The Aggies (7-7, 1-3 MWC), led by senior forward Jalen Moore and freshmen Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen, rose to the occasion at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Moore's 20 points against New Mexico advanced the senior forward's streak of consecutive games in double-digit scoring to 27 straight. Merrill's breakout game of the year resulted in 13 points and eight assists.

"I feel like we finally just got sick of losing close games," Moore said.

As Moore and Merrill carried the Aggies, it was McEwen's second-half performance that helped USU squeeze by the Lobos. The freshman combo guard finished with 18 points and drilled a crucial 3-pointer to put the Aggies up 60-57 with 7:56 remaining. A follow-up tip-in by sophomore forward Quinn Taylor, who came off the bench to provide the spark necessary to upend New Mexico, summarized the grit needed in the win.

A Merrill 3-pointer broke a 47-47 deadlock early in the second half. The freshman from Bountiful was at the right place at the right time when he picked up a loose ball, drove through traffic and finished strongly at the rim to put the Aggies up 53-49 with 11:17 left in the second. A steal and an assist by Merrill to senior guard Shane Rector put the Aggies up 71-63 with less than two minutes remaining.

"I don't know where these [assists] are coming from, to be honest," Merrill said. "Guys are making shots [and] I focus on making the easy play."

USU's first MWC win of the season was made a stiffer test due to New Mexico senior forward Tim Williams. The 6-foot-8 big man who finished with 30 points and seven rebounds gave the Aggies fits the entire evening, beating defenders 1-on-1, off the dribble, nullifying double teams and doing so shooting a high percentage from the field. Williams had 20 points on 9-of-11 shots in the first half alone.

After Williams took an accidental shot to the face by senior forward Jalen Moore, and the Lobos offense slowed.

A few minutes on the bench was all he needed before returning to give New Mexico a second-half lead.

"I told our guys in a timeout that tonight we flip the script, tonight we take the lead and tonight we finish," Duryea said. "We did that and we made defensive stops, throwing the kitchen sink at them (New Mexico) defensively.

While Williams single-handedly kept the Lobos in front in the first half, the Aggies rallied behind a slew of 3-pointers — primarily from senior forward Moore. The North Logan native drained four 3-pointers in the first half, briefly giving Utah State a 37-36 lead with less than a minute remaining in the half. A layup by Taylor gave the Aggies their first lead in nearly 15 minutes when Merrill finished a fast-break started by Rector.

USU returns to MWC play Saturday afternoon when it hosts the UNLV Runnin' Rebels at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Logan.

"It was definitely a hump we needed to get over," Merrill said after USU's first MWC win of the year.


Twitter: @chriskamrani




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