Maturity, or the lack thereof, by the Utah State men’s basketball team reared its ugly head Thursday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The Aggies were cruising along, enjoying a 22-point lead early in the second half, and then found themselves fighting to preserve a win. In the end, USU did make enough plays to hold off a late charge from Nicholls State and notch its sixth straight victory, 79-72, in the second game on the first night of the World Vision Basketball Challenge, sponsored by Gossner Foods Inc.
“That’s our basketball team in a nutshell right there,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “That’s us right now. We can look really good like we did in the first half, or we can look really poor like we did in the second half. We’re very immature. We thought it was going to be easy.”
It certainly was not, at least over the final 14 minutes.
T.J. Carpenter heated up from outside and hit three straight 3-pointers, which triggered a 21-6 surge by the visitors. Nicholls State (1-6) pulled within 60-54 with 8:15 to play.
“All of a sudden (No.) 22 (Carpenter) makes three threes in a row because we don’t guard him, and we got ourselves a ballgame,” Morrill said.
The Colonels built some confidence and kept whittling away at the Aggie lead. Three times Nicholls State got within three points down the stretch.
“We got too big of a lead and we have a young team that doesn’t know how to handle success yet,” said Kyisean Reed, who had a monster night for the Aggies (7-1) with a team-best 20 points, a career- and game-high 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. “Nicholls State made it a game.”
Each time Nicholls State did get within a possession of USU, the Aggies were able to answer. Reed scored, then Jarred Shaw grabbed a rebound and laid it in, and Reed made one free throw the final time the Colonels got within three.
Spencer Butterfield gave the hosts a little breathing room with 39 seconds to play when he scored off a nice pass from Preston Medlin as the shot clock was about to expire. Butterfield finished with a career-high 14 points.
“I wish we only played 20 minutes, and I’d take that second half,” Nicholls State head coach J.P. Piper said. “I don’t know what happened to us in the first half. ... The message in the postgame (was), if we can get what they gave me in the second half, we’d be something else. It was a heck of an effort where they showed a lot of guts and poise.”
The Aggie coach praised the Colonels too.
“We have to credit them,” Morrill said of the Colonels. “They came out and played a lot better in the second half, and we relaxed.”
USU shot 55.3 percent from the field and held Nicholls State to 37.7 percent shooting.
The Colonels were led by Carpenter with 23 points, but he fouled out with 1:29 to play. Fred Hunter came into the game averaging 25.3 points per game and shooting 66.7 percent. He scored 17 on 7 of 16 shooting, and had 10 rebounds. Dantrell Thomas also had a double-double for the Colonels with 13 points and 10 boards.
“We were up and got lackadaisical,” said Shaw, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds. “We didn’t come out to play second half. We got to get better. If we did that in conference, we would end up getting beat really bad. We got to come out and play a lot better in the second half.
“... All we can do is get better in the next game and don’t let it happen again. ... There is not much we can do about this game, because it’s over. All we can do is move to the next game, and come in with a positive mindset and do better than we did tonight.”
It wasn’t exactly the start the Aggies wanted, as they went more than four minutes between field goals. However, the Colonels could only muster a 4-2 lead.
Then USU went to work. After Butterfield scored five straight points to get the offense going, the hosts went on an 11-0 run. Reed sparked that surge with six straight points, including an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Marcel Davis. Marvin Jean capped the run with a 3-pointer, giving the Aggies a 18-7 lead with 10:38 left in the first half.
A 9-0 run brought out the “Up by 20” chant from the students. Shaw scored to give the Aggies a 36-16 lead with 2:49 until intermission.
USU took a 43-22 lead into the break after shooting 57.7 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. Nicholls State shot a paltry 24.2 percent.
Reed gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 48-26, scoring off a Davis pass. Davis finished with a career-high seven assists.
“We had a really good first half, really disappointing second half and are fortunate to win,” Morrill said. “On to the next game.”
“We move on; it’s a new game tomorrow,” Reed said.