<strong>RUSTON, La.—</strong> League leader Louisiana Tech made sure the Utah State men’s basketball team wouldn’t have the same luck the USU football team did in Ruston, knocking off a ranked team on the road. In the national rankings for the first time since Karl Malone led the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16, LaTech jumped all over the Aggies in the opening minutes and coasted to an 84-61 blowout win.
The loss in the win column may not have been the biggest loss of day, however, as the severely depleted Aggies lost Spencer Butterfield as he went down hard on his injured hip and had to be carried off the court. Butterfield was then carried into the locker room, and eventually transported to a local emergency room in an effort to alleviate his pain.
Butterfield has been playing with a cist on his sciatic nerve throughout the season, but has been able to play through the pain – until now. He took a hard foul late in the second half Thursday, and landed directly on his hip. Butterfield could barely move after the injury, and looked to be in severe pain before heading to the locker room.
Jarred Shaw and Ben Clifford each scored 14 for the Aggies, while TeNale Roland added 12 of his own. Brandon Gibson led all scorers, as he tallied 20 points against the Aggies for the second time this season, while Raheem Appleby chipped in another 15 for the No. 25 Bulldogs.
“I didn’t think we put forth a competitive effort and that’s disappointing to come all the way down here and just kind of go through the motions and just get dominated,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “You’ve got to be a little bit tougher, a little more determined, and fight through some things. We didn’t do that. But they are the reason why. They just keep running guys at you. They are intense. They are so good defensively and then they were making shots on top of it. We could have got beat by 50 tonight.”
Louisiana Tech’s defense swarmed each USU possession early, which led to 11 first half Aggie turnovers, and the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 17-4 lead during the first 10 minutes of the game.
The half didn’t get any better for Utah State as the Aggies failed to generate anything on offense either. LaTech took advantage of the USU offensive struggles by scoring 17 points off turnovers in the first half.
“They get a lot of deflections in that press they run,” Roland said. “I think we had 15 turnovers today.”
Gibson finished the half with a last second bucket, giving him 12 points at halftime, and sending USU into the break, trailing 49-23. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Bulldogs managed only 51 points the entire game.
“We make him look like an all-star,” Roland said of Gibson. “He just sits behind the arc and shoots 3’s and he was able to knock them down this game and last game.”
The Bulldogs shot 57 percent from the floor in the first half, while the Aggies shot only 32 percent, making only 8-of-25 attempted shots.
Louisiana Tech didn’t let up in the second half, extending their lead to 31 with just less than 14 minutes remaining in the game. That deficit is by far the largest that USU has had this season.
Following Butterfield’s injury, freshman point guard Marcel Davis fouled out forcing redshirt walk-on Connor Garner into the game for the first time this season. He’ll most likely see plenty of minutes Saturday when the Aggies face UT Arlington, barring a miracle return by Butterfield.
“They dominated the basketball game from the start. The game was over early,” Morrill said. “They jumped out to a big lead. We couldn’t get anything going offensively because their defense was outstanding. Then we couldn’t stop them. Man, zone, it didn’t matter. We couldn’t get them stopped.
“They looked like a top 25 team tonight and we didn’t look like a team that has won 19 basketball games. You know, it’s not a team that has won 19 basketball games. It’s a team that has won five basketball games. That’s just where we’re at.”
The Aggies did gain some ground late on Louisiana Tech but not enough to make a dent in the Bulldog lead.
“I think we just need to keep our heads and stay positive after this loss,” Roland said. “We have a game on Saturday so we just need to stay positive and keep rolling.”
Utah State returns to action at UT Arlington, who now leads the fifth place Aggies by a game in the WAC standings, on Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will most likely be a preview of the first round matchup between the two teams in Las Vegas for the WAC conference tournament.