While a loss is hardly expected for the Aggies in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, there was no reason to hang their heads Thursday night.
Utah State head men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill was going to make sure his team didn’t feel too bad about a 67-58 setback against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels are the defending West Coast Conference champions and have an All-American candidate at point guard.
Conversely, the Aggies are still a work in progress.
“We played really, really hard,” Morrill said. “They have nothing to feel bad about in terms of effort. We played a very good Saint Mary’s team. ... I think we are going to have a good basketball team, I really do. I’m not doom and gloom about that game and I don’t want our kids to be.”
USU (1-1) was much more physical in the second game of the young season and crashed the boards. Several scoring droughts in the second half and an off night shooting the ball did the Aggies in.
“We came out and played hard; we just missed a couple of shots,” said USU center Jarred Shaw, who led the team with 17 points and grabbed a game-best 15 rebounds. “... Things are correctable. Our effort was there. If we come out and play as hard as we did tonight, we will be a really good basketball team.”
The Aggies finished with 49 rebounds to the Gaels’ 30.
“Our number one key was rebounding the ball and if you’d told me we outrebounded them by that margin, I would have thought we’d have been in great shape,” Morrill said.
Shaw said a key to the game was rebounding, which the Aggies focused on in practice.
“We didn’t want to let them come into the Spectrum and outrebound us,” Shaw said. “I felt like we did that.”
USU shot 32.3 percent from the field for the game, while Saint Mary’s (2-0) made 45.7 percent of its shots. The hosts also struggled some at the free-throw line, sinking 15 of 24. Making it worse, the Aggies missed the front end of five one-and-one situations.
“This was a funny game,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “They beat us so bad on the boards and inside, and we dominated on the perimeter and came out on top. It was a good thing we shot the ball well.”
Trailing by 10 with less than nine minutes to play, the Aggies tried to claw back. Spencer Butterfield hit a jumper that started a 13-6 surge. Shaw tipped in a miss and Danny Berger drilled a 3-pointer with 4:57 to play to pull USU within 54-51 and ignite the crowd of 9,077 fans.
The Aggies did have the ball and could have tied the game or pulled within a point, but it didn’t happen. A mad scramble for a missed USU shot ended up with bodies strewn from one end of the court to the other. Saint Mary’s was awarded the ball, and made sure to cash in.
Matthew Dellavedova would score the next seven points for the Gaels, and Stephen Holt was a perfect 6 of 6 at the foul line in the final two minutes to seal the victory. Dellavedova led all scorers with 21 points, while Holt added 16. Former Aggie James Walker III came off the bench to score 14.
“This is a big win,” Bennett said. “This is a tough place to come in and play. ... We have a ton of respect for this program.”
Joining Shaw in double-digit scoring for USU was Kyisean Reed with 16 and Berger with 10. Reed also had eight rebounds and four steals.
“This is a game where we did it on the boards, but just didn’t shoot the ball well, from anywhere really,” Reed said. “If we keep rebounding like that, keep playing hard like that, we’ll be OK.”
Aggie guard Preston Medlin was held to seven points on 3 of 11 shooting. He had to contend with Dellavedova most of the night and never seemed to find a rhythm.
“They did a great job on Preston and we had a hard time shooting the ball,” Morrill said. “You have to give them credit. ... Dellavedova is pretty good on defense, too.”
The Aggies got off to the start they wanted, scoring the first six points of the contest. Berger made a layup, followed by a Reed layup and a coast-to-coast play by Medlin as the hosts built a 6-0 lead.
The Gaels got their first points from the bench when Walker checked in and drilled a 3-pointer. He would finish with 12 in the first half.
Saint Mary’s used a 9-2 run to take its first lead of the game. Walker and Dellavedova scored to cap the surge and give the Gaels a 26-21 lead with 7:10 left in the first half.
The visitors took a 34-31 lead into the break.
After trading baskets to start the second half, the Gaels went on a 7-0 run as the Aggies went nearly six minutes without scoring. Walker gave the visitors a 43-33 lead with 13:48 to play.
“We just missed shots,” Shaw said. “... It boils down to they were hitting shots tonight and we weren’t.”
Another dryspell for USU lasted almost four minutes, but Saint Mary’s didn’t take full advantage and led 48-38 with 10:46 left in the contest. Then the Aggies made their last big push.