<strong>LOGAN—</strong> “I’m not doom and gloom about the game, and I don’t want our kids to be.”
Those were the words of USU men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill after the Aggies suffered a 67-58 setback to Saint Mary’s at home Thursday night. Surprisingly upbeat after the loss, Morrill was pleased with Utah State’s effort, the way the Aggies rebounded the ball, the way they cut down on turnovers, and the physicality they played with against a very good West Coast Conference team.
Morrill’s demeanor was a far cry from what it was following so many games last season – wins and losses – that it was almost odd. His players followed suit, as both Kyisean Reed and Jarred Shaw, while disappointed with the loss, saw so many positives in the game against the Gaels that it was hard to be too upset.
I can’t blame them.
After a lackluster season-opener less than a week before against Idaho State, the Aggies showed the potential that led the media to pick them as WAC champions. Led by their post players – especially a very active Reed – USU was very physical against a big and skilled Saint Mary’s team.
The Aggies had an incredible plus-19 edge in rebounding as they hauled in 49 boards on the night. Even more incredible was that basically half of those, 24, were offensive rebounds. Led by Shaw, USU was also very aggressive in getting to the line. The Aggies attempted 11 free throws in the first half compared to just two for the Gaels. Saint Mary’s eventually caught up in attempts from the line, but that was due to the Aggies having to foul down the stretch more than anything else.
What stood out to me more than anything though – except for maybe the rebounding advantage – was how close the Aggies managed to keep the game despite shooting just atrociously for most of the night.
While the Aggies were, as Reed put it, “unable to hit the ocean while standing on the beach in the sand,” the Gaels couldn’t miss – especially in the first half. Saint Mary’s connected on 67 percent of their first half attempts and went 6-of-9 from 3-point land, while USU made just 34 percent of their attempts and went 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Despite the Gaels coming back to earth in the second half, the Aggies weren’t quite able to get over the hump. For the game, USU shot just 32 percent from the floor and only 19 percent (3-of-16) from beyond the arc. Preston Medlin, the Aggies’ best offensive weapon and preseason conference player of the year, was held to just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. At the point guard position, TeNale Roland was 1-of-9 shooting, while Marcel Davis didn’t attempt a shot. On the wings, Marvin Jean and Spencer Butterfield were a combined 2-of-8.
USU will be hard pressed to shoot this poorly for the rest of the season, and the Aggies were within three with a chance to get even closer with less than five minutes to play.
“We’ve just got some guys who need to find their way. We were nervous, we didn’t shoot the ball well,” Morrill said. “We hung in there and kept competing, but we just couldn’t make shots. With that poor of a percentage, it’s obviously hard to win, especially against a really good team.”
Looking ahead at the Aggies’ schedule, they have what should be two easily winnable home games against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Weber State coming up, before their first road game of the season at Santa Clara. USU’s next big test will be on the road, Dec. 5, at BYU. Following that, the schedule is pretty easy again until a road trip to New Mexico State and Denver in mid-January.
Saint Mary’s is one of, if not the best team Utah State will face this season. Yes the Aggies lost, but Morrill and company have plenty to be happy about as long as they continue to play physical. Roland and Davis will adjust, Medlin won’t stay down, and the shots will start to fall.
The season is far too young to make any definitive statements one way or the other, but it was nice to some of the preseason potential I saw in this team shine through. I expect a little bit more of that potential will be visible Saturday night.