Some of the loudest cheers during Utah State's 65-55 win over Weber State on Saturday came as Ben Clifford calmly sank free throws.
The sophomore forward hadn't gotten many minutes to that point, but was a cool 7-for-8 from the free-throw line coming off the bench. His presence was steadying as Kyisean Reed met his first serious foul trouble of the season.
And that's exactly what coach Stew Morrill expects to see in future games from everyone coming off the bench. Clifford, who he described as one of the hardest workers on the team, is helping set the tone.
"You never go out there thinking, 'Oh, Ben's not going to be ready to play hard today,'" Morrill said. "We really need some bench production, and it was good to see him do that."
In their last three games, the Aggies have been outscored in bench points 57 to 33. Only 20.3 percent of Utah State's scoring this year has come from backups.
Part of that is explained by the number of new players coming off the bench, such as freshman Marcel Davis or wing Marvin Jean. It's only natural newcomers would take some time to develop.
But with all of the team's nonconference road games coming up in the next few weeks starting Wednesday at Santa Clara (Calif.) the time to adjust to the Division I game is growing shorter.
Clifford has notched a standout game, and so has Spencer Butterfield in the season-opener against Idaho State. The hope is that more players will take on the role as the spark off the bench, and become more consistent in that effort.
"One of the strengths we always thought we had was depth, and sometimes guys get into foul trouble and we need that second string," Clifford said. "Sometimes your first few games in the Spectrum can be a little overwhelming. Hopefully we don't have anything like that on the road."
Newcomer Shaw among WAC leaders
Utah State's new addition at center has been working out quite well.
Junior Jarred Shaw, who sat out last year after transferring from Oklahoma State, has lived up to his preseason billing as conference newcomer of the year, albeit four games in. His 14.5 points per game is good for No. 10 in the WAC, and his 10.8 rebounds per game are No. 2 in that category.
Shaw has been a huge reason the Aggies have a conference-leading 13.7 rebounding margin, a figure also boosted by Reed and Preston Medlin. Morrill identified the statistic as one of the big reasons Utah State has gone 3-1 early in the year, and said it would be critical to maintain.
"On thing we're doing a pretty good job of is rebounding the basketball," Morrill said. "That has to be something we can count on game-in and game-out as our offense and defense try to get a little bit better."
Utah State headed out on the road
P Utah State (3-1) at Santa Clara (5-0)
Tipoff • 8 p.m. MST
Radio • 610 AM,102.1 FM
Internet • www.utahstateaggies.com
• The Aggies will face the undefeated Broncos in their first road test of the season.