<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Saturday against the top team in the WAC, the USU men’s basketball team did something it hadn’t done since 1994. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a positive accomplishment, as the Aggies dropped their fourth straight game, a 51-48 heartbreaker to Louisiana Tech.
Ben Clifford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime, stretching USU’s losing streak to its worst in the Stew Morrill era.
“I have no problem with our effort. We played really, really hard. Louisiana Tech just seems to find a way to win close games like this,” Morrill said.
Jarred Shaw had 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to lead the Aggies, while Spencer Butterfield also posted a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. The two juniors combined for 37 of the team’s 48 points and nearly 60 percent of the Aggies’ rebounds. Louisiana Tech was led by Brandon Gibson’s 20 points which included 6-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
“I washed all the negativity from my life,” Shaw said. “I’ve been in a bit of a slump and down on myself. I just thank God I had a great game tonight.”
Utah State scored first, but quickly fell behind after Gibson went 5-for-5 on his first five 3-point attempts. The Aggies came out with plenty of energy, but struggled to finish around the hoop.
“Our guys kept battling. We had chances,” Morrill said. “We have limitations, but as I told them afterward, as long as you compete and try that hard, we’ll live with the results. That’s the position we’re in right now. Having 50 rebounds indicates we tried pretty dang hard. We missed a lot of layups. You get a few of those down and it’s a different story. We couldn’t quite finish them.”
After trailing by as many as 14 in the first half, USU went into halftime trailing the Bulldogs 35-22.
The Aggies started the second half on an 8-0 run over the first six minutes. During the run, Marvin Jean assisted a Jordan Stone bucket that brought the crowd to its feet and swung momentum in USU’s favor.
Utah State cut the deficit to four as early as 10:46 left in the game but couldn’t get any closer for eight more minutes. With 2:46 left on the clock Butterfield completed a 3-point-play that brought the Aggies within one.
The junior then made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:42 remaining to tie the game for the first time at 48. Just a few seconds later, preseason WAC first team member Raheem Appleby connected from long range to put Louisiana Tech ahead for good – it was the Bulldogs only field goal in the final eight minutes of action.
“Appleby makes a big shot and maybe if we’d put a little more pressure on him, I don’t know,” Morrill said. “They’ve won a lot of games like this where it’s down to the stretch, down to the end. They find a way and that’s how you win championships. They’re a very good basketball team.”
USU had a chance to tie as Butterfield attempted a 3-pointer with just less than a minute left, be the shot was partially blocked. The Bulldogs recovered the loose ball, but were unable to add to their lead.
Butterfield rebounded a Louisiana Tech miss with 14 seconds left and found Marcel Davis to bring the ball up. Despite having two timeouts, USU elected to let things play out. Davis nearly got trapped and lost the ball, but found Clifford for a good look at the buzzer.
Clifford combined with Davis and Marvin Jean to shoot 0-of-20 from the floor, as both teams shot poorly for the game. Clifford was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in Thursday’s loss to UT Arlington.
“It was disappointing, but like coach said, we can’t just sit and harp over this, we’ve got another game coming up,” Shaw said. “We’re short guys, but we can’t get down about it. If we get down about it, that will just hurt our team. It’s a loss, but we just have to try and stay positive.”
Utah State hits the road for its next three games, the first of which will be in Moscow, Idaho as they face the Idaho Vandals. The Aggies won the previous matchup against the Vandals this year in dramatic fashion, as a Preston Medlin buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent the game into overtime and USU held on for the win.
The Aggies will then travel to Seattle, and finish off the road trip the following week at San Jose State.
Tipoff for all three games is scheduled for 8 p.m. Mountain Time.