<strong>LOGAN—</strong> With the snow falling and the beards flowing, the USU men’s basketball team stretched its winning streak to a baker’s dozen as the Aggies pulled away from San Jose State for a 66-60 win Friday.
Despite losing the WAC’s leading scorer and a key bench player prior to the game, the Spartans were more than ready to fight as they gave the Aggies all they could handle for 40 minutes in a very physical game.
“Well we won, and that’s the good news,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “I thought San Jose responded really well for not having some of their better players … their guys rallied together and played really hard and gave them a chance.”
Junior guard Preston Medlin, who sparked a “Beard Out” for the Friday night game at the Spectrum, led USU with 25 points, while Jarred Shaw recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Spencer Butterfield and Kyisean Reed also tallied double digits, with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
San Jose State (9-7, 3-2) was led by a trio of players in D.J. Brown (16 points), Chris Cunningham (15 points), and Xavier Jones (14 points). It was a valiant effort by the Spartans who announced prior to the game that leading scorer James Kinney and Utah native Louis Garrett would miss the contest due to a violation of team rules.
“It was physical, it was scrappy. They’re a pressure team, their bigs on defense, they were grabbing, scratching, clawing, whatever they had to do to have us stop scoring,” Shaw said. “It was just one of those games.”
The Aggies jumped out to an early 6-2 lead to start the game, much to the delight of the largest student crowd of the season. However, neither team was able to open more than a five point lead in the first half, and USU only held a slim 29-27 lead at the break despite shooting 10 percent better than the Spartans and outrebounding them by nine during the first 20 minutes.
One reason for the Aggies struggles was turnovers. USU was plagued by turnovers earlier in the season, but had cleaned it up in recent games. Nine first-half turnovers led to 10 points for the Spartans, and helped them keep it close.
“Turnovers in the first half, that’s obviously what we don’t want. Coach Morrill, he doesn’t like that,” Medlin said. “Last game we only turned it over six (times), and we turned it over nine (times) in the first half, so that’s not what we want.”
USU cleaned up its turnovers in the second half, finishing with 14 for the game.
The stalemate continued in the second half, until Medlin was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 14:31 left to play. He made the ensuing free throws to push the USU lead to 43-36 – the Aggies biggest of the game to that point. The Spartans didn’t go away, but they couldn’t muster enough of a comeback to pull any closer than four the rest of the way.
Though the Aggies outrebounded the Spartans by one in the game, 34-33, SJSU did a lot of damage on the offensive glass, with 20 second-chance points. San Jose State attempted 20 more shots than the Aggies, allowing them to stay close despite their shooting struggles (35.9 percent for the game).
Butterfield gave Utah State its biggest lead of the game at 54-45 on a 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining, but the Spartans had one last run. Four straight points by San Jose State cut the USU lead to five with three minutes left. The Aggies excecuted and made free throws down the stretch (20-of-25 on the night) to hold on for the win.
“They just stayed in the game through the whole way,” Morrill said. “You look at the stats, and it doesn’t feel like we played that bad, except they get a whole bunch more shot than us, and that’s a credit to them. Our percentages were pretty good, we rebounded the ball okay, especially in the first half, and we’ll take the win.”
After three consecutive home game, USU (13-1, 5-0) will put its perfect league record to the test when the Aggies travel to New Mexico State and Denver – two of the better teams in the league – next week.
“You’d like to be better in certain phases of the game, and we’re going to have to be next weekend. We get a real taste of reality going on the road against those two teams, two of the better teams in the league … we’ve got some real challenges ahead,” Morrill said.