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Denver • Even as the minutes waned, Utah State fought. The Aggies refused to let those last few rays of hope, however slim, escape.
With less than three minutes left, Chris Udofia slammed a dunk down that all but extinguished that chance. And Utah State (14-3, 5-2), which had to take the court without leaders Preston Medlin (wrist) and Kyisean Reed (knee), was left to play out the final motions of a 68-57 loss to Denver (11-7, 7-1) on Saturday.
It was a strong late effort by only eight active players, a group that mostly began the season as reserves. But it was still a defeat, and if there were any moral victories encapsulated in their second straight loss, it gave the Aggies no comfort as they trudged out of Magness Arena.
"It's pretty tough seeing [Reed and Medlin] go down," said Marvin Jean, who scored a team-high 14 points. "It was tough without them tonight, but I think we still could've gotten it done with all the guys. But we didn't."
Ten points would be the closest Utah State would get in the second half, and even that was a herculean effort against the machine-like Denver offense.
The Pioneers' efficiency matched its billing: Denver's crisp Princeton offense ended up with 17 assists against only three turnovers. The Pioneers found a knack for finding the open man when Utah State tried to double up, either waiting in the backcourt for a jumper or behind the basket for a layup.
Even when the Aggies did manage to take away Denver's options for 35 seconds of the shot clock, the Pioneers had a deflating habit of launching up shots at the last moment and knocking them down. Brett Olson led all scorers with 18 points as Denver scorched the nets, going 10 for 19 on 3-pointers. They also had success penetrating in one-on-one matchups.
"I don't know how many baskets they made at the end of the clock," coach Stew Morrill said after the game. "We were in zone, man they run you around, run you around and then their 5-guy drove in on our 2-guard and dunked on us. Their 4-man drove on our point guard and scored on us. Those kind of things can't happen."
Utah State couldn't hold on to the ball. The Pioneers flustered the Aggies in the post by swarming their big men, as Utah State coughed up 15 turnovers. The approach limited the team to only one field goal in the first 11 minutes of the contest.
The one area where Utah State didn't struggle was from the perimeter and free throws. The Aggies launched away for seven 3-point shots Jean had four of them and were perfect from the line until the second half. The team's first 2-point field goal didn't come until Jarred Shaw dunked 18 minutes in.
Denver's lead soared to 22 points before the Aggies adjusted. And it stung.
"All night, they just swarmed," said Ben Clifford, who had eight points. "You just gotta go quick when it happens. It took us a while to figure that out."
Utah State goes back to Logan to lick its wounds, but it won't be long before UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech come to town to finish out the first half of WAC play. The team will learn more about the extent of Medlin's and Reed's injuries on Monday.
Until then, the Aggies will be hoping the recent stumble doesn't worsen to a free fall.
"We're going to be positive about trying to get to 7-2 before second half. That would be a pretty good first half," Morrill said. "That's where our focus has got to be."
Storylines Utah St. loses on road
O The Aggies play without Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed due to injuries.
• Marvin Jean leads Utah State with 14 points, including four 3-pointers.