It’s a good thing the Aggies weren’t competing in a beauty pageant Saturday night.
They would have not fared well.
The Utah State men’s basketball team did just enough down the stretch to escape with a 56-48 victory over Idaho State to begin the 2012-13 campaign. The Aggies have now won 14 in a row against the Bengals as it was the season opener for both teams and 9,607 fans were on hand at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
“Idaho State did exactly what you need to do on the road against a team you have concerns with,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “They made the game ugly. It was just an ugly basketball game. We helped make it ugly.”
The Aggies had 17 turnovers, which led to 17 points for the Bengals.
“It was a tough game,” said USU guard Preston Medlin, who led the team with 14 points. “I thought it was pretty sloppy on both ends for us and for them. It was a game that we got a win out of, so we are happy about that.
“... Coach told us that we can’t have that many turnovers, obviously. You are not going to win a lot of games doing that.”
Idaho State played a 1-1-3 zone most of the night, which USU had prepared for. Still, with so many new players, the Aggies struggled at times.
“Their zone was very, very good,” Morrill said of the Bengals. “We’ve got a lot of new guys who were kind of shell-shocked. ... We made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Hopefully, we can learn from it.”
Despite being big favorites, the Aggies had their hands full most of the game. The Bengals used a 9-2 run to tie things up at 37-all with 9:45 to play. Nick Mason drilled a 3-pointer to cap the surge.
“My guys played really hard,” ISU first-year head coach Bill Evans said. “That’s where things have to start. I was proud of the way they played. I wish we could have scored 10 more points.”
With the game knotted for just the second time, enter Aggie junior Spencer Butterfield. The junior college transfer took a pass from Kyisean Reed and drilled his first shot of the night — a 3-pointer.
“I’ve been working on my shot every day, so I knew if I was open I could hit the shot,” Butterfield said. “Once that first one went down I felt good and thought, ‘OK, all of this shooting is paying off. I should be good the rest of the game.’ It was good.”
And it was. Two minutes after his first trey, he sank his second. Butterfield would make all three of his 3-point attempts and finish with nine points. His treys came during a 15-3 run for USU.
“Spencer Butterfield made some big shots,” Morrill said. “He hasn’t played much, but he’s a tough-minded kid.”
Medlin liked what he saw from Butterfield.
“He came out tonight and played great. That was big fur us,” Medlin said. “He got us some momentum with the three 3s.”
Jarred Shaw capped the game-deciding run with a bucket as the shot clock was about to expire, giving the hosts a 52-40 lead with two minutes to play.
“As I told our guys, it’s nice when you can still get a win when you didn’t play well,” Morrill said.
The Aggies did own the glass, outrebounding the Bengals 36-23. Shaw led the way with a game-best nine boards, while Medlin and Reed had five each.
The Bengals were led by Melvin Morgan with a game-high 19 points.
It took nearly two minutes for either team to score to begin the game. Medlin ended the drought with a drive along the baseline for a reverse layup.
While both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net in the early going, USU did manage to string together eight straight points as ISU went 6:32 without scoring. Danny Berger capped the surge with two free throws when the Bengals were whistled for a technical because six players were on the court after a timeout. The foul shots made it 14-4 nine minutes into the contest.
The Aggies built their largest lead of the opening half with a 7-0 run. Marvin Jean hit a 3-pointer on a pass from Medlin on a fastbreak after TeNale Roland had blocked a Bengal shot on the other end. The trey gave the hosts a 24-11 lead with 5:22 before halftime.
ISU went on a 7-0 run as USU went three minutes without scoring. The Bengals pulled within 24-18 when Morgan hit a 3-pointer.
The Aggies took a 30-23 lead into the break, despite 10 turnovers.
“We just had a lot of turnovers, which is uncharacteristic of us,” Butterfield said. “... I didn’t think they were playing great defense, but the way they were denying our wings, I think that kind of created the turnovers.”
The second half began the same way the first 20 minutes did, with both teams struggling to score.