Defense lets down Utah State in loss to Fresno State

Feb 22 2014 - 11:20pm

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Utah State forward Kyle Davis (23) gets fouled by Fresno State forward Karachi Edo (4) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Utah State guard Preston Medlin (13) dribbles the ball as Fresno State guard Marvelle Harris (23) defends during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Utah State forward Kyle Davis (23) gets fouled by Fresno State forward Karachi Edo (4) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Utah State guard Preston Medlin (13) dribbles the ball as Fresno State guard Marvelle Harris (23) defends during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

LOGAN -- Stew Morrill felt his team's offensive effort was more than good enough to win Saturday night. But Utah State's defensive performance was another story.

"Fresno State had a great night shooting the basketball, and we couldn't do much to get them stopped," USU's head coach said following the Aggies' 79-76 loss to Fresno State at the Spectrum. "We played good enough offense -- other than not shooting very well from 3 -- to win the basketall game. We just couldn't guard them, or wouldn't guard them."

A win over the Bulldogs (7-8 in the Mountain West Conference, 14-14 overall) would have secured Morrill's 600th career victory and a winning record for the Aggies (5-10, 15-12). Instead, Morrill admitted his team's confidence has been shaken again after losing its third straight game and fifth home game of the season.

"It's disappointing that we let them come in and here and beat us, but we're not the most confident group right now," the veteran coach said.

Offesnively, senior center Jarred Shaw led the Aggies with 18 points, while sophomore foward Kyle Davis totaled 14 points and 15 rebounds and senior point guard Tenale Roland contributed 12 points, six assists and five rebounds.

But Utah State's primary perimeter threats continued to struggle with Preston Medlin going just 2 for 9 from the field for six points and Spencer Butterfield 3 for 10 with 10 points. Freshman guard JoJo McGlaston did his best to offset the veterans' lack of production by coming off the bench to score a career-high eight points.

As a team, Utah State shot 50.8 percent for the game and committed just six turnovers. However, the home team went just 6 of 21 from 3-point range, while the Bulldogs knocked down 11 of 23 long-range attempts.

"Defensively, we're a mess right now," Davis declared. "... We'll get back to practice on Monday and try and figure it out."

Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson, who was heavily recruited by the Aggies, knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 21 points. Sophomore guard Marvelle Harris contributed 15 points, but it was the shooting of Paul Watson that caught the Aggies off guard. Coming into Saturday's game, the freshman swingman was averaging under 10 points a night, but Watson ended up going 4 for 6 from 3-point range on his way to matching his career-high with 20 points.

"I'm really proud of our guys," FSU head coach Rodney Terry said. "... I'm extremely proud of the way they hung tough in a tough place to play."

The Aggies trailed by six points at halftime, and they really couldn't have been happier.

After starting off the game extremely cold, the Bulldogs suddenly found the range about five minutes in after Johnson tied the score at 10-10 with a 3-pointer. Allen Huddleston and Johnson quickly added two more treys, and Fresno State ended up exploding for a 27-8 run that left the Bulldogs up by 16 points.

In danger of getting rolled on their home court for the second straight game, the Aggies finally managed to make a stand over the last five minutes of the opening half and clawed back into the game the hard way. But thanks to some defensive stops, a handful of free throws and a 3-pointer by Roland, the home team forced FSU into a timeout with 68 seconds left.

Utah State surrendered a 3-pointer to Marvelle Harris in the closing seconds, but a hard-nosed, 3-point play by Butterfield and a short baseline move by Jarred Shaw with two seconds to go pulled USU to within 39-33 at intermission.

The Aggies carried that momentum into the second half, scoring the first five points after halftime to close the gap to one. Utah State finally regained the lead at 45-44 when Watson was called for goaltending on a driving layup by Roland, but the home team wasn't able to stretch its advantage to more than a single point.

A quick 10-4 burst by the Bulldogs gave the guests the lead for good, although USU got back to within a single possession in the final 18 seconds. The Aggies' last chance came with just four-tenths of a second left when FSU's Alex Davis appeared to kick the ball out of bounds during a foot race with Medlin, but after a long timeout to review the play, the officials gave the ball to the Bulldogs.

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