<strong>LOGAN—</strong> After a 13-game winning streak, Utah State now has dropped three games in a row.
The latest defeat came at the hands of UT Arlington by a score of 74-68. The Aggies were very shorthanded and will remain that way for another 6-8 weeks while junior Preston Medlin recovers from a broken wrist.
“We’re definitely trying not to be frustrated,” sophomore forward Ben Clifford said. “After the game (head coach Stew Morrill) was just honest. He said we had a chance to win, you know, we gave ourselves chances. Down the stretch we made a couple mistakes. Credit to Arlington, they played great down the stretch.”
Spencer Butterfield stepped up for USU, pacing the Aggies with a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds – both team highs as well. Clifford and junior forward Marvin Jean added 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Aggies. UT Arlington’s scoring was distributed quite evenly, as it has all season, as the Mavericks had five players score in double digits. UTA’s Karol Gruszecki led the team with 14 points.
“We played hard. I was really proud of our guys,” Butterfield said. “We came to work all week in practice and I think we showed that in the game. We just made some mistakes and mental errors down the stretch. We just have to play harder and get better and come to practice ready to go.”
With 8:54 left in the first half and Utah State leading, 18-15, the Mavericks went on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes. The run was capped by a Gruszecki 3-pointer. After an Aggie timeout, USU’s starters were on the floor and scored two buckets to stop the bleeding.
After battling back and forth throughout the first 20 minutes of the game, Utah State went into halftime tied with UT Arlington at 33.
“We just can’t be satisfied with playing close because we’re playing with a little bit of a skeleton crew,” Morrill said. “There are no moral victories. There’s just winning and losing and we have to keep fighting. That’s all there is.”
Utah State struggled to get field goals after halftime, shooting just 9-of-28 from the field during the second half. The Aggies also had a hard time rebounding. After holding a 26-13 rebounding advantage at halftime, USU was outrebounded 23-15 in the second half.
“They definitely stepped it up on the boards in the second half,” Clifford said. “That is what kept us in it in the first half, our rebounding. I thought that we finished the game strong on the boards, but it is what allowed them to take control early in the second.”
The already short-handed Aggies took another blow when Butterfield picked up his fourth foul with 8:39 left in the game. At the time he was leading the Aggies with 17 points. Despite the foul trouble, Butterfield’s time on the bench was limited as Morrill was forced to roll with a trio of players that had four fouls late in the game.
“We only have four guys rotating at all three point guard and wing spots so we have to be careful on foul trouble,” Butterfield said. “We got to stay in front of our guys so we’re not getting fouls.”
USU came within four points several times in the final two minutes, but couldn’t get any closer as UT Arlington pulled away for their seventh road victory of the season.
“We tried hard. We were just a few plays away from having a chance to win. We’ve just got to keep fighting, that’s all we can do,” Morrill said. “We’re not looking for excuses. We had lots of chances. We took a couple bad shots. We had a lot of opportunities around the basket that we couldn’t finish. We turned the ball over too many times and had trouble with their ball-screen defense. They set ball-screens and got all the way to the basket too many times. There were a bunch of things.”
USU returns to action again Saturday as they play host to current WAC leader Louisiana Tech. That game begins at 7 p.m. and will feature a special presentation honoring the Utah State football team.