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Utah State basketball: Aggies looking for Koby McEwen to steer ship in Mountain West Tournament

Published March 9, 2017 3:03 pm

Utah State men's basketball • Coach says freshman is still sharpening his "point guard mentality."
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Las Vegas • Placing the burden of the Utah State's postseason hopes on the shoulders of freshman Koby McEwen wouldn't be fair, but the Toronto native and Wasatch Academy graduate has carried a similar burden throughout this season.

McEwen, a dynamic 6-foot-4 athletic point guard who was selected the freshman of the year by Mountain West coaches on Tuesday and by the media on Sunday, has had to adjust to the college game on the fly. He started all but one regular-season game for the Aggies. His learning curve will get steeper when he plays in his first conference tournament game at noon Wednesday against San Jose State at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"At the beginning, it was pretty fast for me," McEwen said. "It was all crazy for me. Then it started slowing down. Then it sped up again. Then it slowed down. Most of the time, I would say, it's been slowing down more than it's been speeding up. That just means I'm getting more comfortable as the season goes on."

The eighth-seeded Aggies (13-16, 7-11) defeated ninth seed San Jose State (14-15, 7-11) in their lone meeting this season at San Jose State on Feb. 22. This time, the winner will advance to the quarterfinals and a matchup with top seed Nevada (25-6, 14-4).

McEwen earned a high profile as a high school player at Wasatch Academy. ESPN ranked him among the Top 100 recruits as well as the 19th-best prep point guard in the United States. He garnered interest from major programs including teams in the Big 12, SEC and ACC.

This season, McEwen averaged 15.4 points and three and assists per game, while making 45.2 percent of his 3-pointers during conference play. He led all Mountain West freshmen in scoring.

The Aggies have been one of the most-efficient shooting teams in the conference. They finished the regular season ranked second in field goal percentage (45.2 percent). However, they were tied for the most turnovers committed per game (12.8) and ranked last in turnover margin. Cutting down on the team's turnovers starts with McEwen, who had as many turnovers and assists during conference play.

"A lot of my problem is I want things to be there that are not," McEwen said. "Instead of making the easy play, I tend to force it a little bit. That's what I've got to work on, just making the easy play and seeing the floor better."

Even while in the midst of his on-the-job training, McEwen has shown he's capable of being a huge difference-maker. He scored 19 second-half points to lead the Aggies to a 74-57 victory over eventual regular-season champion Nevada on Feb. 1. On his way to setting a freshmen single-game scoring record (28 points) he also scored 24 second-half points in a win over UNLV on Jan. 7.

Aggie coach Tim Duryea and McEwen both acknowledge McEwen has got a ways to go as he settles into the role as a leader and extension of the coaching staff. Both also agree that he's making progress.

"Running the team to the extent that you would like to see it run from a player on the floor, we're still not to that point," Duryea said. "He's making strides there, but in terms of a point guard mentality, we're still working on that."

McEwen and freshman backcourt partner Sam Merrill serve as talented building blocks for the Aggies going forward. They've both dealt with the usual ups and downs most freshmen experience. By virtue of having the ball in their hands so often and being charged with making crucial decisions, their growing pains have been felt by the entire team.

"They have to play well for us to play well," Duryea said. "I don't think there's really been a game all year where those two guys, Sam and Koby, have not played well and we've overcome that, and that's a lot of pressure to put on them. I think they know that by now. … Guard play in general, as you get to a tournament, is going to decided your road and the outcome of what you accomplish."


Twitter: @LWorthySports






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