Utah State couldn’t overcome their poor shooting from the free throw line, and BYU caught fire in the second half as the men’s basketball team fell 75-66 on Saturday night in Logan at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Aggies shot 10-23 from the FT line during the game.
“One of the more frustrating basketball games I’ve ever been involved in,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “You make more field goals, you make more threes, and you get twice as many offensive rebounds but, you just can’t make free throws. That is really frustrating.”
Sophomore guard Koby McEwen led all scorers with 20 points on 6-13 shooting, including 5-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Senior forward Alex Dargenton tallied 10 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Sam Merrill poured in 14 points before fouling out in the final minute. JC transfer and junior Dwayne Brown Jr. had nine points and eight rebounds for the game.
Outside of the FT discrepancy, the teams were fairly even for the game in many other stats. Both teams grabbed 35 rebounds on the night, and USU had 15 turnovers to BYU’s 13. The two sides even finished with the same shooting percentage, each shooting 44 percent from the field. The 14-point difference at the line was too much to overcome, however.
“Everyone who missed a free throw tonight, it’s not because they can’t,” Merrill said. “You just have to push through it mentally. It shouldn’t be that hard, but we have to find a way to fix it.”
BYU did enjoy an edge from the bench, as they outscored the Aggies in bench points 26-13, with the majority coming courtesy of McKay Cannon who had 17 points. Isby led the bench for USU with eight points. Junior Quinn Taylor and sophomore Diogo Brito were the only other bench scorers for USU, chipping in three and two points, respectively.
Yoeli Childs led BYU in tandem with Cannon, totaling 17 points and eight rebounds. Elijah Bryant chipped in 15 points and six rebounds for the visitors.
Utah State started out the game by holding BYU to only seven points over the first 13 minutes of the game. The Aggies were unable to capitalize, however, scoring only 15 points over the same span. BYU then closed out the half on a 21-9 run to take a 28-24 lead.
“We made a lot of good plays in the first half, we put foul pressure on their defense,” Duryea said. “Obviously, at this level, you have to convert (layups and free throws)… We have to finish around the rim and we have to make free throws.”
The Aggies came out strong in the second half, using a 9-0 run to take a 33-31 lead in the early minutes. After several minutes of back-and-forth play, BYU utilized a 16-7 run to take a 62-52 lead, repeatedly staving off USU until the final buzzer sounded. BYU shot 52 percent from the field in the second half, as well as 62.5 percent from behind the arc. Following the loss, Duryea spoke of how close the team was to piecing it all together.
“I’m actually encouraged defensively by a lot of things I’m seeing,” Duryea said. “We’re putting some really good defensive stretches together, better than we have in a while. I think if we can lengthen those stretches out, we can be a very solid defensive team.”
The team’s defensive energy may have been strengthened by the energy of the crowd, who showed out in full force for the in-state rivalry, as well as a “blackout” promotion from the USU athletic department that included free T-shirts for students, many of whom had been camping out in anticipation of the game.
“I appreciate the fans for supporting us, and I’m sorry we couldn’t do better,” McEwen said. “I was really hyped up. I know it’s an important game for Aggie fans, and I gave it everything I had. We try to give you guys our best effort and it wasn’t good enough, so we’ve got to get better.”
The team will have only a few days to regroup before Utah State again attempts to defend the Spectrum, as the Aggies will host UC-Irvine on Wednesday night at 7 pm.