College basketball • Clifford bests previous career high by seven points.
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Logan • It's the year of the bench in Logan. And Saturday night might have been a culmination of that effort.
With reserves thrust into starters' roles and minutes, it's been often unpredictable, often frustrating, often heartbreaking basketball at Utah State. But Saturday's 71-51 win over UT-San Antonio was a big game for some key players who haven't always played a huge part in victories.
Prominent among them was Ben Clifford, who poured in 21 points to follow up his double-digit night against Texas State. His early-season shooting slump long forgotten, the sophomore made baskets that were contested in the paint, but also had enough touch to sink his free throws.
"I got open in the zone a bunch," Clifford said of his night that bested his previous high of 14. "The shot felt good, I felt good. I felt good all week."
Clifford has quietly become a consistent player for the Aggies. TeNale Roland and Matt Lopez have needed slightly more coaxing.
But still, both of them had good nights. Roland notched all of his 14 in the second half, helping rally the team out of a slump he was only the fourth Aggie to score. His 3-pointers helped open up the floor, Clifford said later.
Lopez was the fifth Utah State player on the board, and played with a focus he hadn't shown since his debut against Utah Valley. The sophomore big man went 4 for 4, getting some cheers as he wrestled away a rebound and went in for his last basket of the night.
Stew Morrill insisted afterward that the Aggies can't take much from the last week of the regular season into the WAC Tournament. The tournament is its own beast, he said, and hot teams often can cool when they reach a neutral court.
Still, it's not as if there's nothing to a standout effort from Clifford, Roland and Lopez. As most of the Aggies all but Clifford and Jordan Stone prepare to play in the WAC Tournament for the first time, confidence is useful as they look to finally knock off UT-Arlington.
A three-person bench outscored UTSA's bench 22-6. And Utah State will take a win any way it can get one, even if the best player isn't necessarily a star.
"I thought we played really well this weekend," Clifford said. "We're trying to prepare for UT-Arlington; they've had our number twice. That's not something we like."