Las Vegas • There was another chance for Utah State. Down by three, there was still a few seconds to keep its WAC Tournament hopes alive.
In an instant, Kevin Butler stole those hopes, and cruised by himself all the way to the hoop.
It was over. A run back from an 18-point deficit couldn’t amount to a WAC Tournament win for the Aggies, who fell 83-78 against a UT Arlington squad that was their tormentor this conference season. There was no luck to be had at the end of a long, injury-worn year.
“We were ahead, came all the way back, but we never got the lead with the ball,” coach Stew Morrill said. “Every time we got the lead, they scored.”
The game had the makings of a classic — and for the Mavericks, it probably will be.
Both teams shot far above their averages, answering each other’s big shots. When Utah State’s Ben Clifford hit a go-ahead 3-pointer, UT Arlington’s Brandon Edwards found a tough layup. When Karol Gruszecki had a long-range jumper for the Mavericks, Spencer Butterfield did the same for the Aggies.
The two tussled for the last few minutes with only one or two points between them. UT Arlington finally got some breathing room with a three-point lead, and had a chance to go up by more with free throws by Jordan Reves.
Reves missed both, and Utah State tried to push it up the floor with 20 seconds left. Butler picked off a pass by TeNale Roland, boosting the lead to five with six seconds left.
It was too little time for the Aggies.
It would’ve been tough to imagine a more rocky start for Utah State, which fell behind early while coughing up five turnovers in the first four minutes. The giveaways made for easy pickings on dunks and open shots for the Mavericks.
“We weren’t quite ready for the press,” Butterfield said. “We were a little flustered at the beginning.”
The deficit got to 18 points before the Aggies were able to start pushing back. Butterfield scored 14 points in the first half, making the deficit a manageable 40-29 at the intermission.
The Aggies got a rush from Butterfield, who finished with 19. Jarred Shaw had 20 points, despite a few questionable shots late. Clifford was a 3-point ace, going 4 for 5 from long range for 16 points.
But the sum of those parts was not victory, as the Aggies fell to UT Arlington for the third time this year.
It was all the more tough to swallow because of the day’s previous events. Louisiana Tech and Denver, the two top seeds in the tournament, were knocked out in the two games before Utah State took the floor.
Morrill said the program was unlikely to accept a postseason invitation.
“Our season is done,” he said.
Storylines UT Arlington 83, Utah St. 78
R Jarred Shaw leads the Aggies’ losing effort with 20 points, and Spencer Butterfield puts up 19.
• The Aggies came back from an 18-point deficit but lose in the final seconds.