The free-throw line at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum has never carried so much weight as it did Saturday night as the Utah State men’s basketball team faced the Indiana State Sycamores.
A one-point game ended in the Sycamores’ favor at 62-61 after a heartbreaking change of pace in the second half.
Head coach Tim Duryea said it would have been a “whole different ball game” had the team just made free-throws.
“In today’s college basketball you can’t score 60 points and expect to win,” Duryea said. “To shoot 7-13 in the second half form the line – free-throws forever have won college basketball games, and we’re not getting the job done.”
Though the game ended with heartbreak, USU’s performance in the first half didn’t allude to that.
The Aggies got into a comfortable 15-point lead midway through the first half and a led in the rebounds game as well (in contrast with Wednesday’s battle of the boards which they lost). At the half, the Aggies were up 35-21 and leading in every statistic possible – most notable being the 83 percent shooting from the foul-line.
“We were together on the defensive end and we were making shots on the offensive end,” said freshman guard Koby McEwen of the team’s first half performance.
“At halftime our plan was to come out and do the same thing we did in the first half,” said senior wing Jalen Moore.
But that’s not at all what happened.
Nine minutes into the second half the Aggies put up four points followed by a seven-minute scoring drought, cutting their lead to two.
The drought was due to an unexpected 2-3 zone from Indiana State Aggie coaches didn’t see coming.
“I’ll take the blame for that,” Duryea said. “I never would have dreamed that Indiana State would through a 2-3 zone at us with the way they’ve played this year.”
Senior guard Shane Rector stopped that scoring drought with a deep 3-pointer, but the Utah State’s lead remained close due to some controversial fouls called against USU – the most influential being a foul called on Moore behind the arc which led to four more points for the Sycamores that tied the game.
Indiana State pulled ahead 60-59 with 1:02 left in the game.
Two missed Aggie shots kept the Sycamores up by one point, and gave them a chance to increase that lead to three with their leading scorer, freshman guard Brenton Scott, at the line for a bonus 1-and-1.
After an air-ball miss from Scott, the Aggies were within one with twenty seconds to go.
A drive beneath the basket brought McEwen to the free-throw line at the 20 second mark.
The Spectrum was still as McEwen’s first shot sunk through the net, tying the game and guaranteeing the Aggies would still be in the game.
The second shot sunk and with it went the silence. The crowd erupted just in time to watch as Indiana State got the ball quickly to its leading scorer who got under the hoop.
Three USU defenders went to guard Scott, who dished it out to freshman forward TJ Bell to make an easy layup with two seconds remaining on the clock.
The ball was inbounded to Moore, who attempted but missed a deep 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
“It just came down to that last play,” McEwen said. “It’s unfortunate. There’s nothing you can do about that. But if we would have just made our free-throws before all that happened we wouldn’t be in that situation.”
Coming from a four-game losing streak, the Aggies will face Great Falls on Tuesday night at the Spectrum at 7 p.m.
“We will not get down,” said McEwen of the team’s now four-game losing streak. “We’re in desperation mode right now — we need a win. Next game we will win.”