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Logan • It's not often a team can give up 35 points from one player and win.
Illinois State got a standout performance from Tyler Brown, but Utah State got a solid night from all seven men who took the floor. Tying a season high in assists and getting double-digit scoring from four players, the Aggies proved to be the better squad Saturday night in a 80-71 win over the Redbirds in a BracketBusters contest.
Whereas Brown was undoubtedly the best player on the Spectrum floor, Utah State benefitted from its versatility. Every player scored. Every player got an assist. Illinois State never had much certainty where the punches would be coming from.
As every player took his turn stepping up, the Aggies were able to recover from a rough start and take a lead they never surrendered for the final 17 minutes.
"It didn't look good early," coach Stew Morrill said afterward. "We tried to adjust to their pressure, and they were scoring on us. But we got after them a little better on the defensive end, we mixed a lot of defensive looks and got some good looks."
Brown set the pace of the game early, hitting five first-half 3-pointers. The Aggies were scrambling in the first five minutes as they fell to a 21-10 lead.
But Utah State turned it around to a 13-0 run, gaining the upper hand by playing interior defense. A mix of zone, man and triangle-and-two schemes helped subdue some of the scoring and give the Aggies a chance to control the tempo.
Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield once again filled their roles as leaders and scorers: Shaw had 18 points including some key dunks at the finish, and Butterfield had 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
But the key on offense was how the Aggies shared the ball. The team combined to tie a season-high 23 assists with each of the seven players getting at least a pair of helpers. Marcel Davis led that effort with a career-high eight assists.
"They played zone a lot, and when teams are in zone, we have such great shooters, they have to keep the middle open," Davis said. "If I can get to the middle, I can dish out."
And that's what Utah State did, finding a variety of ways to hurt Illinois State. They had 28 points in the paint, but also shot six 3-pointers. The Aggies made the Redbirds pay for their turnovers, scoring 17 points off Illinois State's giveaways.
TeNale Roland had a season-best 13 points on the strength of his deep 3-pointers. Jordan Stone got a few putbacks to make an impact. The highlight might have been a dunk by Ben Clifford a rare sight that fired up the bench.
"It was a solid win," Morrill said. "We had some guys really step up."
A 36-32 haltime lead looked flimsy early as Brown continued his rampage, and center Jackie Carmichael warmed up his shot. But Utah State always stayed a step ahead, and often was ready to clean up Illinois State's errant shots.
Although Brown was 11 for 22 on the night and 7 for 14 from long range, the team shot only 36.9 percent from the floor against the Aggies' mixture of defensive schemes. Brown scored 35 and Carmichael scored 25, but only one other Redbird had more than three points.
It was a strong win for Utah State, a needed bounce-back effort from a heartbreaking loss to BYU on Tuesday. Morrill hoped it would give the team motivation moving forward into a road trip that begins at WAC-leading Louisiana Tech.
"We've got to be positive we're playing better," he said. "We've got to go in there believing we have a chance."
Storylines Aggies top Illinois State in BracketBusters
O Utah State finishes with a season-high-tying 23 assists.
• Jarred Shaw has an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double.
• Tyler Brown notches 35 points to lead all scorers for the Redbirds.