<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Returning home after three road games in a row, Utah State lost a heartbreaker to the Denver Pioneers Thursday after a buzzer beating 3-pointer gave Denver the 63-60 win in overtime. The game was close the entire night as neither team held a double-digit lead at any point.
“Give them credit. That’s a great basketball team and they are having a heck of a year,” Utah State head coach Stew Morrill said. “That shot at the end of the game is kind of conducive to the kind of year they are having. They just do what they have to, to find a way to win. That’s a credit to them.”
Junior center Jarred Shaw led Utah State with 18 points and nine rebounds. Spencer Butterfield and Ben Clifford also scored in double-digits for the Aggies with 16 and 14 points, respectively. Denver’s Brett Olson led the Pioneers with 17 points, including the long 3-pointer that gave Denver the win as time expired.
“I just feel like I took my time tonight and made some plays when I needed to,” Shaw said. “I’m lucky they went in. Coach told me that I needed to step up and be more physical. I can’t be soft anymore, so I’m just embracing that and trying to stay positive and do what I can to help the team win.”
Denver got out to a quick 6-0 lead before Utah State found some offensive rhythm. The six-point lead was the largest lead in the first half. The Aggies didn’t get a lead in the game until there was a minute and a half left in the half. After a tough first 20 minutes of play, Utah State trailed, 25-23, at the break.
The Pioneers held their lead for the entire second half, and extended the gap to nine points with seven and a half minutes to play.
Utah State slowly started chipping away at that lead and was only down by three points when Butterfield went to the line shooting two with one minute remaining. Butterfield made both free throws, bringing Utah State within one. The Aggies got a stop on the other end of the floor as Marvin Jean rebounded a miss by Denver’s Chase Hallam.
“We did what we wanted to do as far as defending them for the most part,” Morrill said. “We were a lot better defending the Princeton-type stuff.”
Morrill called a timeout with 21 seconds remaining and trailing by one. Butterfield drove into the the lane and nearly lost the ball, but was able to kick it out to Marcel Davis who pulled up for an open 3-pointer with nine seconds left. The shot rimmed out, but Shaw was there for the offensive board and was fouled on the rebound, sending him to the line shooting one-and-one. Shaw missed the first foul shot but Davis got the offensive board and was fouled to give the Aggies another chance to tie or win the game.
Davis went to the line for two shot, but also missed the first one. With only 1.6 seconds on the clock, he hit his second attempt to tie the game. Denver’s Royce O’Neal nearly got a three-quarter court shot to go at the buzzer, but after 40 minutes of play, the game went to overtime.
Utah State got its biggest lead of the game in overtime, a two-point advantage with two and a half minutes to play, but that would be short-lived. Denver would take a three point lead after Cam Griffin completed a three-point-play with 43 seconds left. Following another Morrill timeout, Butterfield stared down a defender before pulling up for a deep 3-pointer. The ball bounced twice on the rim before dropping to tie the game with 15.5 seconds left.
“I knew we were down three so I was just trying to get us tied up, so we could just play defense so we could go to a second overtime or get a stop and a quick bucket and win it, but it just wasn’t enough tonight,” Butterfield said.
After a timeout, Denver couldn’t find a good shot on their possession. With time winding down, Olson got the ball deep behind the 3-point line and threw up an off-balance prayer as time expired. The ball hit nothing but net and the Denver bench rushed the court in celebration.
“He got a look and just threw it up there and it went in,” Butterfield said. “We played really good defense, I thought. He just got a really good look at it and made it count.”
Utah State drops to 17-6 on the season and 8-5 in conference play with the loss. The Aggies will look to end their three-game home losing streak when they host New Mexico State Saturday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU, and won’t tipoff until 9 p.m.
“We’re going to come in on Saturday and give it our best,” Butterfield said. “We’re not going to let them beat us up this time. And we’ll be ready for them, we’ll bounce back.”