Utah State basketball keeping ego in check on winning streak
Published: January 16, 2013 08:02PM
Updated: January 17, 2013 12:27AM

Logan • Outside the hallway of the men’s basketball locker room, Utah State legends are frozen in time.

There are pictures of Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold and Jaycee Carroll making plays and hoisting shots. Teams built very much on the backs of longtime starters and veterans who won multiple WAC titles. In the images, they hold them up while beaming in their freshly minted championship caps.

This year’s Aggies are not those Aggies.

Junior Preston Medlin is the longest-tenured member. The only senior, Kyisean Reed, got to Logan last year. Most are newcomers: Of the 10 active players, only four saw action in Aggies uniforms last season. And coach Stew Morrill has spent his share of news conferences saying his team must be more consistent.

But the way this team resembles the others — at least so far — is the most important: its record.

At 14-1 and on a 13-game winning streak, Utah State is making it work despite a field of newcomers that has been depleted by injury and departure. Only Kansas has a longer stretch of consecutive wins in the nation.

It doesn’t always feel like they’ve been that successful, with the ebb and flow of an emotional season. That stretch of victories has included eight single-digit wins, including two in overtime.

“In those 13 games, I don’t know how many we’ve won by 15 or more,” Medlin said. “We’ve had a lot of close games down the stretch. It hasn’t been easy.”

Part of that equation is clearly the matchups: With a season chock-full of home games and at least a few low-profile opponents, the scheduling gods have smiled on the Aggies.

But whereas closing out tough games last season was a struggle, this year Utah State has done it time and time again.

Medlin has grabbed attention with his 3-pointers that have sent two games to overtime, but other games have been won with free throws down the stretch. Or rebounds that end up in the Aggies’ hands at the right time. Or the steal that sets up points.

Clutch play has come in variety this season, even with different players leading the way.

“It’s been nice when I’ve had 10 points and Preston has had 25, or Preston’s had seven and Kyisean scores 25,” Jarred Shaw said. “We get it from every spot, not just depending on one guy to do all the scoring or rebounding. We just try to put it together, because we know one of these days we’ll all play good at the same time.”

But are they actually good? Folks on the team are reluctant to compare themselves to great ones in the past, and that includes Morrill. On Tuesday, he said Utah State’s record belies its play so far.

“We are certainly glad to be sitting where we’re at, but I think that it’s a little bit deceiving because there have been a whole lot of close games that we have managed to squeak out,” he said. “We are a long way from proving that we are a legitimate contender in this league.”

Yet with each win, confidence grows. The Aggies have made the most of their home-heavy schedule, winning all but one game at the Spectrum. After a down year, the buzz is back, and it’s palpable.

Men’s basketball

Utah State at New Mexico State

O At Las Cruces, N.M.

TV • KMYU

Radio • 97.5 FM

Records • Utah State (14-1, 5-0); NMSU (10-8, 4-2)

Series history • Utah State leads 35-29

Last meeting • Feb. 11, 2012 at USU; NMSU 80, USU 69