<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Tournament MVP Kyisean Reed scored 21 points and Preston Medlin added 16 as Utah State defeated Southern Illinois, 70-58, in the final game of the World Vision Basketball Challenge.
“This was just a grind-it-out, physical affair between two pretty tired teams. We’ll feel good about getting the win, winning the tournament, and going into Christmas break on a good note,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “Southern Illinois is well-coachesd, they’re rugged. They’re undersized, but they give you problems with their athleticism. Having Kyisean have a big game and Preston have two really good games in a row gave us enough to get the win. We’ll take it.”
After winning the first game of the tournament with impressive post play and the second game of the tournament with impressive wing play, the Aggies used a combination of both against the Salukis as USU lead from start to finish.
“A lot of it has just been that our posts are really playing awesome lately, and that’s really good for us,” Medlin said. “When your posts are playing like that, they’re helping in, and they (posts) kick out and do a good job of that. We’re just making our shots now.”
Already missing junior Danny Berger, the Aggies were also without guard Spencer Butterfield who was under the weather. In Butterfield’s absence, Marvin Jean stepped up and contributed eight points on 3-of-5 Shooting – including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Aggies shot 60 percent for the game, including a scorching 70 percent in the second half. USU was also hot from 3-point land for the second consecutive night as they connected on 67 percent (6-of-9) from beyond the arc. Southern Illinois cooled off after a solid first half, finishing the game with 43 percent shooting.
The Aggies started things where they left off Friday night, knocking down two 3-pointers to open the game. After that, Reed took over as he tallied 10 first-half points. Utah State opened up a 12 point lead in the first half when Jean connected on his second 3-pointer of the game to make it 33-21 with 2:23 left in the half.
“I just had to go out there and do what I had to do, make the best of it, and show them what I’ve got,” Jean said. “I had a good time, starting especially, and I had fun. I definitely proved myself, I think.”
However, the Salukis responded.
SIU’s Desmar Jackson – who led all scorers with 29 points – scored four of Southern Illinois’ final six points of the half as the Salukis went on a 6-0 run. Reed gave the momentum back to the Aggies though as he spun in the lane and kissed it off the glass to push the USU lead to 35-27 at the break.
Early in the second half, Southern Illinois again tried to put together a run against the Aggies. A jumper by Jackson just two minutes in pulled the Salukis to within five, but that is as close as they would get for the rest of the game.
Medlin was fouled on a 3-pointer with 15:49 left and knocked down all three attempts as he kicked off an 11-0 run. Reed finished the run for the Aggies as he banked in a shot while being fouled and finished off the old fashioned three-point play by knocking down the free throw.
“It was a good two halves for us, it was good for us to play a complete game and get some momentum going into conference play,” Medlin said.
Reed’s free throw gave USU its biggest lead of the game at 52-36 with 12:25 to play. Southern Illinois would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“They had a little trouble with some zone,” Morrill said. “We had a double digit lead, so it was fine for them to have to take time and attack the zone. All of that was fine, and I think that helped us a little bit – we just mixed our defenses.”
With the win, the Aggies remain undefeated in their annual holiday tournament and improve to 9-1 as they move into conference play. After a short break for the holidays, USU begins WAC play with a road trip to two new conference members in UTSA and Texas State. The Aggies will play the Roadrunners on Dec. 29, with tipoff at 5 p.m.
“We go on the road the first two games, and I’ve never seen either of those teams. Two teams in our league and I’ve never played them that I can remember … never seen them, so we’ve got our work to do to figure it out,” Morrill said. “With half our league or more being new, I don’t have the feel that I normally have for our league.”