LOGAN – It could have been a big comeback win, but it wasn’t.
Despite rallying from a 22-point first-half deficit to take a lead, Utah State ended up losing 85-77 to the visiting Wyoming Cowboys Saturday night in the Spectrum. The Aggies led twice in the second half – each time by just a single point – but could never keep the advantage.
USU head coach Tim Duryea and his players agreed there was a lack of competitiveness both offensively and defensively in the first half.
“It’s frustrating,” said sophomore point guard Sam Merrill, who led USU with 19 points. “It’s bad when the offense isn’t going well, but its worse when you’re not guarding them and you are turning the ball over.”
A pair of Wyoming senior forwards led all scorers. Alan Herndon scored 21 points while his teammate Hayden Dalton added another 20. Sophomore Aggie guard Koby McEwen recorded a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds in what resulted in USU’s fourth straight loss as the team fell to 3-5 in conference play and 10-11 overall.
Due to multiple injuries, USU was forced into a limited rotation with just eight players. Merrill was on the court 40 minutes, McEwen played 39 and Diogo Brito another 35. Even though it was apparent before the game that fatigue would be a factor, Duryea didn’t use it as an excuse.
“That cannot be a reason,” he said. “We can be tired, we cannot play tired. That is all there is to it.”
The game was still close when Daron Henson’s 3-pointer put Utah State up 15-14 barely more than seven minutes into the game, but Dalton responded with eight points in the next two minutes as part of a 10-0 Cowboy run.
The run was the beginning of a first-half disaster for the Aggies. USU didn’t make a field goal for more than 11-and-a-half minutes, adding just five points on 50 percent free throw shooting, while Wyoming scored 28 points.
“That was the story of the first half where we really just got outcompeted,” Duryea said. “They played harder. They cut harder. They moved faster. They pushed the ball harder.”
With 1:11 left in the half Henson ended the drought with his second 3-pointer. McEwen followed it up with layup to go into the break on a 5-0 run, but still trailing 42-25. Duryea said he didn’t make any technical adjustments at halftime, but emphasized to his team that they need to compete.
“The most important thing in college basketball is how hard you play,” he said. “We came out in the second half and that was the big change.”
USU saw results early in the second half as the Aggies went on a 13-2 run in the first 2:24 and made six 3-pointers before the 13:45 mark. It was enough to exceed its first-half point total in the first five minutes of the second half.
“We were getting wide open shots on the offensive end,” Brito said. “We were getting stops on the defensive end. Basically we got back into the game.”
The Aggies finally got over the hump and took the lead with a pair of free throws by McEwen with 7:16 left, and again with more free throws by Dwayne Brown Jr. at the 5:50 mark, but each time quickly lost it.
Duryea said he was disappointed at what happened once his team got the lead.
“I thought from at that point we played extremely poor,” he said. “We did not execute defensively. We took bad shots or missed shots offensively.”
The next game is scheduled for Wednesday night at home against Air Force, but due to the federal government shutdown that game could be postponed or canceled. Duryea said his team will prepare as if it will be played.