After a tough loss on Wednesday night, the Utah State Aggies recovered quickly to stomp the Fresno State Bulldogs Saturday night, winning by a large margin, 71-55. The Aggies used a total team effort to defeat the visitors and capture at least a share of their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference regular season championship. “We came out alive tonight and played a really good first half and a really good first five minutes of the second half,” Utah State head coach Stew Morrill said. “We got ourselves enough of a cushion to take us home. I thought we were executing and we were defending. Guys were making shots…We did what we needed to do, and we got a win. On to the next one.” It was an all-around great game for the Aggies. The home team got production from multiple places as four players scored in double digits, and six players had at least eight points. Seniors Nate Bendall and Brian Green lead the way for the Aggies, scoring 13 points apiece. Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams rounded out the double digit scoring, with 10 points each. Brady Jardine and Brockeith Pane also got in on the action, chipping in eight points apiece. Wesley, Bendall and Jardine also did a great job of cleaning the glass, combining for a total of 25 rebounds between the three of them. Brian Green’s output was especially important, as the fiery guard broke out of a small scoring slump. After going scoreless for the past two games, Green was able to have confidence in his shot. He went 3-6 from the field and 5-7 from the line to reach his 13 points, in addition to grabbing two rebounds, dishing out three assists, and snatching two steals. After checking in and missing his first shot, Green was productive for the remainder of the game. In addition to his outside shooting, Green was able to penetrate Fresno’s defense to either draw a foul or find an open teammate on numerous occasions. “It was nice to hit some shots,” said Green. “It was nice to get rid of that goose-egg. I haven’t scored in the last couple games, but that’s okay. I don’t care about scoring as much as I do about winning, and I try to do other stuff.” “(Green) is a tough-minded kid,” Morrill said. “He’s not going to stay down forever. He’s had a few tough games, and it was nice to see him bounce back.” Green was not the only Aggie that was able to overcome struggles. Bendall, who put up impressive numbers at Fresno earlier in the season, was dominant in the low post area. The senior from Salt Lake City, Utah had an efficient night, going 4-7 from the field for his 13 points, to go along with eight rebounds, an assist and a block. Most importantly, Bendall, who has been struggling with a foot injury all year long, shut down Fresno State star Greg Smith. His defense was a major part of why Smith had two points, two turnovers and four fouls in 30 minutes of playing time in front of NBA personnel who were in attendance to watch him. “I thought Nate Bendall was very good,” said Morrill. “I kind of short-changed him on minutes the other night at Idaho. Not by design, it was just one of those things that happens… He should have gotten more minutes, and I told him that yesterday. I was bound and determined to get him some quality minutes tonight. He really practiced well yesterday, and it’s nice to see a guy practice well and then play well.” USU played good defense on Fresno for most of the game. The Bulldogs shot 41% from the field, including just 30% in the first half. The Aggies forced 12 Bulldog turnovers, as they were able to disrupt Fresno’s passing lanes and come up with steals. Because of the large lead that USU built, especially in the first half, plenty of playing time was to be had. All 12 USU player’s that dressed saw action, and nobody played more than 34 minutes. Freshman point guard James Walker III was on the floor for a very productive 15 minutes. Walker only had three points on 1-2 shooting and one block, but he was able to give Brockeith Pane some rest. Walker did a good job getting the Aggies into their offense and handling the full court defense that Fresno played, and he received credit from Coach Morrill. “James was playing along pretty well,” Morrill said. “Brockeith got in foul trouble, and we threw James out there. That was as good as he has played for a while. He was pretty solid.” The Aggies will now take a break from conference competition, as they will host Montana Western at the Spectrum on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM.
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