A poor Aggie second half led to an 80-68 UNLV win over Utah State in the Spectrum on Tuesday night.
“I was encouraged at half time, I thought we did a lot of good things we could build on,” said Aggie coach Tim Duryea. “The start of the second half was unexplainable. We dug ourselves in a hole and really did it to ourselves.”
Utah State held a one-point advantage, 36-35, at the half but had four-straight turnovers that led to a 7-0 run by the Rebels to open the second half. With 13:31 to play in the game, UNLV pushed the lead to 18 over the Aggies.
“You can’t turn the ball over nine times and allow them to shoot 60 percent,” Duryea said. “A lot of that percentage is because we turned the ball over. Not a good enough second half offensively to give ourselves a chance.”
A Chris Smith 3-point shot and a dunk attempt by Shane Rector got the crowd going but USU couldn’t get over the hump.
The Aggies cut the lead to 10 multiple times in the final 10 minutes but it stayed there for the rest of the game. Utah State went 1 for 6 on its final possessions and finished the game on an 0-for-4 shooting slump. Minutes before the slump, the Aggies had a 2:45 stretch of a scoring drought that iced the game for the Rebels.
“I don’t know,” said Darius Perkins, a senior guard for Utah State. “Something is missing but I don’t know what. I can only speak for myself and I don’t know.”
Smith was the USU leading scorer and rebounder yet again. He finished with 16 points and 7 boards. Rector and Lew Evans also had 12 points.
Derrick Jones Jr. was the leading scorer for the Rebels, he posted 21 points on 10 of 15 shooting. The majority of Jones’ buckets came in the paint, where UNLV outscored the Aggies 46-28.
UNLV’s center Stephen Zimmerman Jr. was a big reason for the lack of post points for USU. He snagged 16 rebounds, had 12 points and added four blocks on the night.
Jalen Moore struggled to find the bottom of the net for Utah State. He had nine points on just 4 of 13 shooting.
“I thought he turned down some good shots to try and get better shots,” Duryea said. “He ended up taking poor shots. I thought he pressed a little in the second half. He didn’t get in a rhythm … He turned down some good opportunities, he should have just gone ahead and shot it.”
New rotations and an injury to Grayson Moore also played a role in the loss for the Aggies.
“It was tough,” Smith said. “He played three positions for us. He was a workhorse. We really, really missed him tonight. His energy, just everything, he was a leader on the floor.”
USU pulled the redshirt from John Middleton and he saw his first action as an Aggie. Quinn Taylor started and saw an uptake in playing time, playing 18 minutes with Grayson Moore sidelined.
“In a perfect world we would rather have him,” Duryea said of Grayson Moore. “We were developing a nice niche there and felt like our rotation was pretty set. We’re not going to have that the rest of the way. We’ve got to do a good job of developing John.”
Next up, Utah State plays at San Diego State on Saturday. Last time the Aggies and Aztecs met in Logan, USU lost by three after digging itself in a hole to start the second half, a similar storyline to UNLV.
“We need to realize what happened last time they played us,” Smith said. “We didn’t come out hard in the second half. We’ve got to get that fixed.”