LOGAN – The Utah State basketball team (15-14, 7-11) finished its regular season with an 86-85 loss to Fresno State (22-9, 12-6) in a game that came down to free throws in the final seconds. Head coach Tim Duryea called it a “horrible, horrible loss” and said it is on the “top of the list” of frustrating losses this season.
“The first thing you have to do is not beat yourself,” he said. “And we beat ourselves in every possible way imaginable, both physically and mentally.”
The Aggies turned the ball over 18 times to Fresno State’s six. Even worse for USU was the 27-5 points-off-turnovers differential.
“We’ve played those guys two times, and points off turnovers are 45-5,” Duryea said. “And we have two close losses. I mean, its ridiculous.”
Jalen Moore led USU with 22 points. Three other Aggies, Chris Smith (18), Julion Pearre (16) and Lew Evans (10) scored in double digits, but it was Bulldog Mountain West player of the year candidate Marvelle Harris who stole the show with 34. Of his 34 points, 27 came in the second half.
“It didn’t seem to matter,” Duryea said. “He just scored at will in the second half.”
The Aggies had an 83-80 lead with less than a minute to go in the game, but Harris sunk two free throws to cut the lead to a single point. Things got worse for the Aggies the next two possessions, both resulted in turnovers, and both turnovers turned into made free throws for the Bulldogs, which put USU in a three-point hole with 5.8 left on the clock. On the next inbound, Pearre chucked the ball the length of the court to Moore, who took a potential game-tying 3-point shot from the corner. The ball didn’t go in, but Moore was fouled, giving the junior three free throws. The first two went in, but the third didn’t.
“That’s a tough spot to be in,” Duryea said. “When you have to make three to tie. It should not have come down to that. It shouldn’t have even come close to down to that.”
Harris got Moore’s rebound and was immediately fouled, but he missed both of his free throws. With 3.1 seconds left, Moore got the rebound but turned the ball over in a failed pass-attempt to Pearre for a last-chance shot.
“When I looked up, Julion was open,” Moore said. “So I just tried to get him the ball as quick as I could and I threw it a little high.”
What made the game especially frustrating for fans, coaches and players was that at one point, the Aggies had an 18-point first-half lead. With three minutes left in the first half, USU had just completed a 33-7 run, but things got turned around after Bulldog junior Jahmel Taylor two straight 3s.
“We’re up 18 and don’t guard him correctly two possessions in a row,” Duryea said. “He makes two threes and all of a sudden the game is back to 12, where now you have a little life, you have a little momentum. From there we just never could totally grab a hold of it again.”
The Aggies went into halftime leading 42-31 and still had a 10-point lead with less than 15 minutes left, but that’s when Harris took things into his own hands and scored the Bulldog’s next nine points while holding the Aggies to just two.
“They got us out of our game,” Smith said. “That’s just not us.”
With 6:40 to go, Bulldog senior Julien Lewis hit a jumper to finally tie the game at 68-all. Then, the next time down the court, Lewis sunk a 3-pointer. After three more ties and two more lead changes, Fresno State left Logan with a victory.
“We just got to be tougher,” Moore said. “Play harder and keep the momentum on our side.”
Being their last game in Logan, all four Aggie seniors were part of the starting lineup, including injured forward Grayson Moore, who dressed and was on the court for the tipoff before being returning to the bench.
The Aggies will now travel to Las Vegas for the conference tournament. The first game will be Wednesday at 12 p.m. against Wyoming.