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Kragthorpe: Rejuvenated Koby McEwen gives Aggies a major boost

Published March 9, 2017 8:37 pm

Utah State men's basketball • Freshman is always a second-half player, but he takes it to a new level vs. SJS
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Las Vegas

Before launching the last shot of the first half, Utah State guard Koby McEwen had totaled two attempts and two points and the Aggies were trailing San Jose State by three.

Over the next 45 seconds, spanning halftime, McEwen delivered nine points and radically altered the outlook for himself and his team. The Aggies took a 90-64 victory in Wednesday's first round of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

McEwen is known as a second-half player. Yet as of that moment when the clock was ticking down in the first half, any suggestion that he would finish with 27 points and the Aggies would win so convincingly just seemed silly. His tying 3-pointer from the right wing apparently did everybody that much good.

"Just to see the ball go through the net … That's a good thing for me to see and I just gain confidence, and anything can happen after that," McEwen said.

Anything and everything worked for the Aggies in the second half, when they scored a tournament-record 59 points. After the Spartans cut USU's lead to 55-51, the Aggies responded with an 18-0 run that started with Julion Pearre's 3-pointer and ended with another 3 from McEwen — his fifth of the game in five attempts.

For all of the Aggies' inconsistency in coach Tim Duryea's two seasons, they've obviously figured out something in this tournament. In another matchup of Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, USU beat Wyoming by 18 points last March and then took No. 1 San Diego State to the wire in the quarterfinals. Nevada is next for USU this time, after the teams split two regular-season games.

Regardless of what happens against the Wolf Pack, the Aggies needed Wednesday's effort to help them salvage something from this season. Unless something crazy happens this week, they're doomed to post the school's first losing record in 24 years. But there's hope, thanks mainly to McEwen and Sam Merrill.

The Aggies will miss senior forward Jalen Moore, who scored 19 points, but they'll remember how McEwen took over this game and how Merrill, their other freshman guard, added 11 points and eight assists with zero turnovers.

That's another encouraging sign for USU's program going forward, after McEwen and Merrill seemed to wear down late in the season. It helped that the Aggies had a bye to conclude the conference schedule. USU had to stew about a loss to last-place UNLV in this building a week ago, but the break clearly rejuvenated McEwen.

He shot 9 of 12 from the field after going 20 of 58 in the previous seven games, even counting his 23-point effort in a win at San Jose State. Duryea liked the way the MW Freshman of the Year moved the ball without forcing shots in the first half, but there's no doubt the Aggies needed him to start scoring.

He scored the first nine points of the second half, completing a personal 11-0 run. Add it up, and the Aggies enjoyed three bursts totaling 40-0. That's how they won by 26.

McEwen got the Aggies going, and then they couldn't stop. A team that scored seven points in the game's first 10 minutes produced 62 points in the last 20 minutes and 1 second. McEwen accounted for 25 of them.

"They're a rhythm team," said SJSU coach Dave Wojcik. "And I didn't want them to get into a rhythm. And they got in a rhythm in the second half. We tried to change up a couple of times, and they figured it out."

That's what the Aggies usually do in Las Vegas, against teams at their level.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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