Saturday , February 11, 2012 - 6:41 PM
LOGAN —For the first time this season, Wild Bill was back in action at the Spectrum, his body pained green in imitation of the pig from the popular “Angry Birds” online game.
Outside of the much-adored super fan, not much of Utah State’s game against New Mexico State represented the success of last season’s 30-4 campaign.
A lethal mix of New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines and Hernst LaRoche and a whole bunch of USU turnovers in the game’s waning minutes spelled doom for the home team. Utah State (13-13, 5-6 WAC) fell to the southern Aggies 80-69 in a Saturday afternoon game televised by ESPN2.
The defeat marked the third loss of the season at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Entering the season, the Aggies hadn’t lost at home since falling 68-63 to St. Mary’s on Dec. 5, 2009, and had only lost two games at home in four seasons. USU hadn’t even lost two home games since the 2005-06 season — their first in the WAC — when they fell to Nevada and New Mexico State.
“I’ve said it could happen,” said USU coach Stew Morrill of his team’s lack of dominance in any arena this season, reiterating a statement he made after the Aggies fell 67-54 to Denver on Nov. 30, their first home loss of the season. “I’ve said for years that it could happen. It’s pretty obvious that we are good enough to play in a lot of close games. We are not good enough to win them.”
After trailing New Mexico State (18-8, 7-3 WAC) for more than 15 minutes, a free throw conversion from 11-point scorer Kyisean Reed gave the Aggies a 66-65 lead with six minutes remaining in the game. But a breakaway layup from guard Daniel Mullings less than two minutes later restored the southern Aggie lead and began a 15-3 run that included four USU turnovers in the last 2:21, including two from Reed.
“I don’t know, I mean, we were right there with three-and-a-half minutes to go,” said Preston Medlin, when asked if his team ran out of gas after taking the entire second half to regain a lead. “We just didn’t share the ball well. We were outplayed physically.”
McKines, a 6-foot-6 senior forward who was named the preseason all-conference first team, did inflict major hurt in the paint, scoring 20 points while grabbing nine rebounds. He also surprised Morrill by stepping outside the arc to go 2 for 3 from distance, both of which came on consecutive possessions midway through the second half, when USU had drawn within one point.
That preceded a combination of dominant play from LaRoche, a senior point guard, and the flurry of USU miscues. LaRoche tallied seven points, two assists, a block and a steal in just the last four minutes of the game, after the Aggies had regained the lead. It was a slice of a superb afternoon for the Montreal product, who scored 16 points while notching seven assists, three rebounds and three steals.
“I thought Hernst was great,” Morrill said. “He controlled the game, got over screens when we tried to screen, he find his guys.”
“Right at the end there, we kind of lost it,” said Danny Berger, eight of whose 14 points came in the first seven minutes of the game. “We didn’t get better. They really set the tone. A couple times, we were able to the ones who were assertive, but we weren’t involved in doing that most of the time.”
USU’s Spectrum advantage, despite the Aggies’ struggles in Logan, didn’t go unnoticed by NMSU coach Marvin Menzies.
After all, even a certain Aggie enthusiast was once again true to form.
“It was one of those nip-tuck games, a lot of lead changes. I’m just happy our guys fought through it and the adversity and the crowd,” Menzies said. “The crowd here is just amazing, the student section especially. They have by far the best home court advantage in the conference, so I was a little concerned about that with our young guys.”
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