Logan • Stew Morrill took turns yelling maniacally at his players and sitting despondently on the bench.
He shuffled his players in and out like a deck of cards. He pushed. He cajoled, and by halftime he seemed as tired and void of energy as his Utah State team playing against Montana Tech.
By the time USU defeated its NAIA opponent 70-58, and the game at the Spectrum on Tuesday night was much closer than that, Morrill compared the play of his team to a trip to the dentist on Monday afternoon — and the dentist won.
“Yesterday after practice I had some oral surgery, and that was better than what I just saw,” Morrill said. “That is about what I thought of this game. We were not ready to play tonight.”
To put that in perspective, Utah State came within four minutes of losing to a .500 NAIA team in front of a listless, half-empty Spectrum. And to put that in perspective, the last time these two schools met, back in 2000, USU won 79-29.
To put it in further perspective still, this was a Montana Tech team with tired legs, having played against Utah Valley on Monday night.
But the Aggies, perhaps hung over from a disappointing loss to New Mexico State on Saturday afternoon, trailed 34-30 at halftime. They trailed 39-30 at the beginning of the second half, and only won because their overall size and talent took over the game down the stretch.
To do this, however, it was a major struggle. Only Preston Medlin, with 22 points, played well all game. Brockeith Pane, who didn’t start, played well in the second half on his way to 16 points. But Kyisean Reed scored just three points in 20 minutes, and no other Utah State player scored more than six.
“We didn’t come out ready to play tonight,” Medlin said. “Our defense in the first half wasn’t terrible. They made some shots they normally don’t make. We needed to make them miss, so that we could get out and start pushing the ball.”
And that’s, ultimately, how Utah State took control of the game. Montana Tech had no answer for Medlin and Pane, who put on a show in the second half by getting out in transition and converting easy baskets.
Medlin came up with nine rebounds, while Pane dished out five assists. Pane’s penetration in the second half opened things up for his teammates. If it weren’t for that, Utah State may have suffered a shocking defeat.
“The only thing we could do was try and pick up and pressure them,” Morrill said. “Fortunately they missed some shots, we got going a little bit and got out of here with a win.”
R IN SHORT • The Aggies struggle vs. their NAIA opponent, but ultimately move to 14-13 on the season.
Key stat • Brockeith Pane and Preston Medlin score a combined 38 points for USU.
Key Moment • Down 39-30 early in the second half, Utah State gets back into it with a 7-0 run.