It was the kind of shot Utah State struggled to make last season.
When Preston Medlin tossed in a game-tying 3-pointer that gave the Aggies a chance in overtime against Santa Clara, it was a personal breakthrough that washed away a game of frustration.
“They were on me very tight all game,” said Medlin, who attempted only four shots in regulation. “But at the end, I knew I had to make a play for my team. It was going to my hands. You can’t think about the rest of the game, just get up that shot.”
That kind of clarity could make Utah State a tough customer as basketball season rolls along. A 80-78 overtime win on Wednesday left the Aggies floating on clouds, feeling good about a gritty win over a previously unbeaten opponent.
It was only their first road game, but also a statement: This group of Aggies isn’t easily intimidated.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Medlin said. “We scratched and clawed for it. We made a lot of big shots down the stretch.”
Had Utah State lost, it could have pointed out an early 15-point deficit, some questionable officiating, or losing its top performer before regulation ended. It could have brought out all kinds of thorny issues, not the least of which were its 25 turnovers.
As it stood, the Aggies didn’t need excuses. It was an everybody-chip-in kind of night, as nine of the 10 players who got minutes scored. Four players scored in double digits, and eight players made at least a free throw in a game when every point counted.
That type of communal effort could make Utah State a tougher opponent in close games. Last season, the Aggies recorded six losses by five points or less — most of the games were in-conference.
Early trends have shown the team Utah State can be: The Aggies have outrebounded every opponent by at least 10 boards, and the slow ball-control style of play frustrated the Broncos after they started hot. Even the bench had solid contributions, as Marcel Davis, Jordan Stone and Spencer Butterfield played some of their best minutes.
With BYU coming up next Wednesday, any encouraging signs are welcome.
“These guys have been doing a great job,” said Medlin, who has been in the program longer than any of his teammates. “It’s tough when you’re first learning the system, but I feel like our defense has improved a lot, and our rebounding has been spectacular. It’s what coach [Stew] Morrill wants, and it will win you some games.”
Keeping an edge in close games
• The Aggies beat Santa Clara on the road for the first time on Wednesday night.
• For the fifth straight game, Utah State outrebounded an opponent by double digits.
• The Aggies have now won all three games in which they have had a lead at halftime.
Utah State at BYU
P Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Note • The Aggies beat the Cougars in Logan last season, 69-62.