It had been over three years since Utah State had last beaten Boise State.
Sophomore guard Koby McEwen scored 23 points on 9-14 shooting, adding a dagger of a 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining in the game as USU beat the visiting Broncos 71-65. McEwen also led the Aggies with five assists in the game.
“Overall, I think we played a really good game,” McEwen said. “We fought hard all 40 minutes. We didn’t have a doubt that we were going to win this game. I’m happy for my guys, and I’m happy for Aggie nation for beating the number one team in the league.”
Sophomore guard Diogo Brito added a career-high 16 points for the Aggies, adding three assists and three rebounds. Sophomore guard Sam Merrill added 12 points, while junior forwards Dwayne Brown Jr. and Quinn Taylor added 10 and eight points, respectively.
“We’re getting better, a little tougher,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “I like the way our guys are thinking and their confidence. We talked before the game about getting to the end of the game and not having (Boise State) believe they’re going to win more than we believe we’re going to win… A lot of belief on our guys’ part.”
Boise State blitzed USU early in the game, using an 8-0 run to take a 12-4 lead at the 15-minute mark of the first half. Twice, Utah State trimmed the Broncos’ lead to two points, but each time Boise State staved off the Aggies to maintain the lead throughout the first half, heading into the intermission with a 34-27 lead.
The second half became a battle between Utah State and MW Player of the Year-candidate Chandler Hutchison of Boise State. Hutchison scored the first seven points for BSU, tallying 20 points in the second half and 28 for the entire game to lead all scorers. The contributions for USU, however, came from everywhere. Each of McEwen, Merrill, Brito, Brown Jr., and Taylor tallied six or more points in the second half.
“We knew we had to stick through, fight, and make plays,” Brown said. “Also on the defensive end, we coudln’t just make offensive plays. We were down the majority of the game until about 12 minutes left. We just had to stay locked in.”
The Aggies took the lead on a McEwen dunk at the 12-minute mark of the second half, beginning a stretch where neither team built a lead larger than four points until 2:08 remaining when a 3-pointer from Merrill put USU up 61-56. Following a pair of free throws from Hutchison, McEwen buried the 3-point dagger with 1:08 remaining.
“Those were probably the shots of the game,” Duryea said. “Those are the kind of shots those two kids hit and have hit for us the last couple of years.”
Boise State set up a full court press to extend the game, but USU was able to break the press twice for a pair of dunks from McEwen and Brito to close out the game.
“In this series, it seems every game goes down to the wire,” Duryea said. “I was asked before the game what the most important key was and all I could think was ‘finish’. We’ve been in this situation a lot with (Boise State) where with three or four minutes to go, it’s anybody’s game. We haven’t done a good job of finishing. Tonight, we did. We made some plays on the defensive end and we made a couple of big shots.”
The win brought Utah State to 14-12 on the season and moved the Aggies into sole possession of sixth place in the Mountain West standings. At 7-6 in MW play, USU stands only a half game outside of a three-way tie for third place between UNLV, Fresno State, and Wyoming. The loss dropped Boise State out of the top spot in the conference, moving a half game below Nevada.
“It feels good,” Brown said of beating the top team in the conference. “I think this whole league is capable of being the league-leading team. We all have great talent. We all have great teams and great coaches. It’s all just certain people’s nights and certain people’s days. It’s basketball.”
Utah State’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, though, as USU will travel to face off against New Mexico on Wednesday before returning to face the now-league leading Nevada Wolfpack on Saturday at the Spectrum.
“Can’t get cocky, can’t get cocky,” Brown said. “We have to play with composure, play with some humility. Get back in the gym and practice hard. Be the same team we were tonight.”
All players and coaches knew the magnitude of Saturday night’s victory, but also understood that the end goal is still yet to be reached and there still remains plenty of work.
“I love playing on this team,” McEwen said, “because everyone is never satisfied. All of us are always in the gym working.”
Tipoff at New Mexico is set for 7 pm on Wednesday night.