Logan • Utah State has struggled mightily in the first part of the Western Athletic Conference season.
The Aggies lost three of four on their recent road trip, they were blown out at New Mexico State and saw a lead against Idaho dissipate because of turnovers at the worst times.
But USU’s 77-72 win over Hawaii on Thursday night at the Spectrum illustrates the parody of the WAC. With the victory, Utah State is in fourth place with a .500 record. And with a bunch of home games remaining on the schedule, the opportunity to make a run is there.
“This was an important victory for us,” shooting guard Preston Medlin said. “It’s a win we had to have. We came out, we played hard and we got it done.”
To do so, Utah State had to fight off a Warrior rally in the waning minutes. After building a 15 point second-half lead, Hawaii grabbed enough rebounds and scored enough in the paint to make a game of it.
But Medlin was too tough all night. The sophomore scored a game-high 25 points. He made 13 of 14 free-throws and played stellar defense on Warrior star guard Zane Johnson, holding one of the best shooters in the WAC to nine points while he went 4-16 from the field and made only one of his nine attempts from 3-point land.
That was enough, barely. Utah State was dominated in the rebounding department, 48-28. Hawaii got themselves 24 offensive rebounds and Vander Joaquim led the Warriors with 24 points and 14 boards.
“We were trying everything inside,” Stew Morrill said. “We just struggled out there with their size with about anyone that we played trying to get rebounds. But everything else on the stat sheet was good.”
Ultimately, this game was won by the guards for USU. While Medlin was too much for Hawaii to handle, Brockeith Pane penetrated and scored or passed off for open jumpers pretty much anytime he wanted.
Danny Berger, the 6-foot-7 sophomore small forward, scored 12 points. Freshman Ben Clifford scored 11 points, a career-high and Kyisean Reed scored 10. That balance was more than Hawaii had, as the Warriors put just three players in double-figures.
Utah State also hit 23-29 free-throws and held Hawaii to 3-17 from beyond the arc. Those numbers were enough to offset the rebounding advantage the Warriors held.
“We played with some effort, but not great effort,” Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold said. “We got off to a little bit of a bad start and they just kept driving it. We’re not good enough to get away with that. We crushed them on the boards, but we just couldn’t hit shots, couldn’t hit a three.”
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