LOGAN — For the first time in at least two seasons, Stew Morrill was sitting down when the media entered the team meeting room where post-game interviews take place.
He did stand before making an opening statement on Utah State’s 74-68 loss to UT Arlington (9-8, 4-4 WAC) at the Smith Spectrum as the Aggies (14-4, 5-3 WAC) lost their third straight game for the first time since 2008. It consisted of something to the effect of “well, what do you want to know? We tried hard.” (Difficult to tell, since it was muttered.) But he only took two questions — also the least he’s taken in at least two seasons.
His answer to the first (how much fatigue affected the team since they their top two scorers, Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed, are injured):
“No. We’re not looking for excuses. We had lots of chances. We had a lot of chances. We took a couple bad shots and had a lot of opportunities around the basket that we couldn’t finish (USU missed five consecutive shots in the final 30 seconds). We just can’t be satisfied with playing close because we’re playing with a little bit of a skeleton crew (just eight played, compared to 11 earlier this season and 10 so far in WAC play). There are no moral victories.
“We had a bunch of guys play hard, and I’m not going to be specific, that’s team business.”
His response to the consequent second (how he addresses some guys who didn’t play hard after mentioning as much):
“Of course I do. What would you do?” (Well, do you address them personally in front of the team?) “Yes, they owe it to each other that they each play hard. It’s not like if you don’t play hard enough, you don’t get to play. You still play; we don’t have enough (players).
“The storyline isn’t that we lost because some guys didn’t play hard and we got beat. Three-fourths of us played hard. There were just a few that didn’t. The storyline is we did not make some plays on both sides of the court. We fought hard, got beat. On to the next one.”
In his comment that some of his players didn’t give their all, perhaps Morrill was those who struggled from the field: center Jarred Shaw shot just 3-of-13 for nine points and grabbed only three rebounds, more than five below his average. Backup guard TeNale Roland shot 0-of-6, including all four 3-point attempts.
Perhaps he meant those who spearheaded a 17-turnover evening. Point guard Marcel Davis had five, including a juvenile double-dribble call as he was trying to process a play call from the coaching staff’s unique three-ring system as he was crossing the timeline. Swingman Marvin Jean committed another three, including one with 5.4 seconds left as the team tried to manage another three-pointer after missing three in a row within 15 seconds.
Neither post player Ben Clifford nor shooting guard Spencer Butterfield wanted to acknowledge fatigue played a role in the defeat, even though their turnover count tied for their highest of the season. Clifford marveled at Arlington’s defense, which ranks second in the league in scoring defense and first in field goal percentage defense. He also expressed appreciation for Medlin and Danny Berger, still out due to recovery from cardiac arrest in early December, for helping to “keep our heads up.” He also remarked that in a quick turnaround for their game Saturday against league-leading Louisiana Tech, the team must remember that “the greatest players have the worst enemies.”
Butterfield? It was Morrill-esque.
“I was really proud of our guys. We came to work all week and worked hard,” said the junior college transfer, noting that foul trouble from Clifford, Davis and himself (each had four) made the rotation even tighter. “I think we showed that. We just made some mistakes and mental errors down the stretch.
“We’ve just got to come to practice ready to go.”