Utah State pulled off a stunning victory on Wednesday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, defeating Fresno State 81-79 in overtime. USU finished regulation on a 10-0 run to force OT before outscoring the Bulldogs 12-10 in the extra period.
“Tremendous college basketball game,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “We regrouped there at the end, and that showed a lot of guts when you end the game on a 10-0 run. I think that shows a lot of what our guys are made of and the mentality they took into the game. Just a tremendous home win. Those are fun when you come in on the right end of them.”
Sophomore guard Koby McEwen led all scorers with 28 points on 10-18 shooting, including 14 in the first half to pace the Aggies. Sophomore guard added 16 points of his own, including a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line, while both senior forward Alex Dargenton and junior forward Dwayne Brown Jr. also reached double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“That was a fun one,” sophomore guard Sam Merrill said. “Gritty win for us, and we haven’t had a lot of those in the last couple of years. We were down and found a way to come back… Our defense was what won us that game”
The game started as a quintessential back-and-forth affair, as neither team was able to build a lead larger than five points in the opening half. The first 20 minutes features three ties and six different lead changes as each team was able to find offensive success against well-played defense, with USU taking the halftime lead at 39-35.
“Those guys are very talented,” McEwen said of Fresno State. “We executed the game plan really well. We took out who we needed to take out. We slipped up a little bit, but our intensity and communication defensively helped us get out.”
Fresno State came out with a vengeance in the second half, making a clear and determined effort to drive into the middle of the Aggie defense. The Bulldogs scored six points in the paint in the early going of the second half, as part of a 12-5 run to retake the lead. Fresno guard Deshon Taylor especially came alive in the second half, as the Mountain West’s leading scorer poured in 16 points after intermission, and a total of 24 on the game.
“I have great respect for Deshon Taylor,” McEwen said after the game. “We became good friends after our game last year, and ever since then, we’ve had that game-recognize-game relationship. I have the utmost respect for him and every time I see him… ’m going to give him my best and I know he’s going to give me his best. He’s a great player.”
The game then became a game of momentum, as Utah State used a 9-0 run to retake the lead 53-47 with 12:33 remaining before Fresno State responded with a 7-0 run to again jump out at front. Following a media timeout at the under-eight minutes mark, the game was tied 59-59 before Fresno State rode some spectacular offense to a 10-0 run to seemingly lay claim to the victory with little over four minutes remaining in the contest.
The comeback started as Brown was left alone on the perimeter, allowing the JC transfer to sink a tide-turning 3-pointer before USU called timeout to fully regroup for the final stretch.
“We finally got a stop and then there was a timeout,” Merrill said. “Our coaches just told us, ‘Don’t focus on the score, just do what you’ve done the last couple of possessions and you’ll find a way to get back into it.’ That’s what we did and we were able to get a chance.”
Following the timeout, Merrill and McEwen took over, scoring the next six points to bring Utah State within one of tying the game in the final minute. Defensively, the Aggies remained stalwart, holding Fresno State scoreless over the final four minutes and giving USU a chance to tie on the final possession.
With a chance to claim victory, Merrill pulled the trigger on an open 3-pointer which careened off the rim to the corner where it was snatched by Brown. The refs, however, deemed Brown dragged his foot and called a traveling violation, turning the ball back over to Fresno State and forcing the Aggies to foul Deshon Taylor to extend the game. At the FT line, Taylor, a career 85.6 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, allowing USU a miraculous opportunity to again win the game.
Junior forward Quinn Taylor grabbed the miss and immediately made an outlet pass to McEwen who pushed the ball into the front court before being fouled with 0.9 seconds remaining by Deshon Taylor. McEwen would go on to make one of two free throws to force overtime.
“We never believed we were going to lose,” McEwen said, “even when we were down by 10 with 4 minutes left. I had the utmost confidence in our guys and our coaches and myself to win this game. We got into overtime and I knew we couldn’t lose on our home court in front of our fans… Once we got into overtime, I knew it was our game.”
Fresno State opened overtime confidence, as well, and led 75-71 following a 6-0 run, until sophomore guard Diogo Brito put in a huge 3-pointer to kickstart a 7-0 run that allowed Utah State to take control of the game, as layups from Taylor and McEwen gave the Aggies the lead while free throws from Brito and Merrill iced the game for USU.
“I think we took a big step. We’ve been in that situation a lot the last couple of years and most haven’t gone our way,” Duryea said. “I’m not sure last year’s team or the year before, no disrespect to them, but I’m not sure they could have done, down the stretch defensively, what this team did tonight against a quality offensive opponent.”
Utah State outrebounded the Bulldogs 37-28 and also shot 49 percent from the field for the game, including 47 percent from behind the arc. The Aggies also shot 75 percent on 24 attempts from the FT line.
The win was Utah State’s fifth straight victory at the Spectrum and brings the Aggies to 2-1 in conference play, and 9-7 overall.
“That’s as happy of a locker room as I’ve seen in quite a while for a regular season win,” Duryea said. “That was fun to see.”
Utah State will look to retain their momentum on Saturday as the Aggies will travel to play at UNLV. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 pm MST.