Logan • It was in a return to the court that things started going right again for Utah State.
The Aggies (7-2) took out their frustration on Western Illinois (4-6), blasting the Leathernecks 68-52 on Thursday night. Out of a week with off-court distractions, Utah State scored efficiently and had one of its better defensive efforts of the season to in the first of three games on consecutive nights for its home tournament at the Spectrum.
Sophomore forward Kyle Davis emerged with a hard-fought double-double, his 15 points and 12 rebounds leading all players in the game in both categories. Senior guards Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield each chipped in 14 as the team shot 52.8 percent from the floor.
At times, Utah State still missed leading scorer and rebounder Jarred Shaw — suspended indefinitely on Monday — as WIU tried to crowd them out of the paint. The effort, however, more than made up for his absence.
“We just played really hard,” coach Stew Morrill said. “Everybody who was out there just busted their tails.”
Even without their 6-foot-10 center, the Aggies found ways to dominate the boards and on defense. They held nearly a two-to-one advantage rebounding and kept the Leathernecks under 40 percent shooting from the field.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, Utah State’s defensive intensity improved in the second half, as they held WIU to 10 field goals. Davis said bringing energy out of the intermission had been a weak spot in previous games.
“At halftime, coach Morrill said, ‘Can we have a good second half?’” Davis said. “We’ve been a team that has struggled a little bit in the second half, defensively especially. So today was a great step in the right direction.”
Medlin delivered the knockout blows with some late layups to put the game out of reach. Bench players came in late to give the starters a rest for Friday’s game against UC Santa Barbara, a team the Aggies beat in November on the road.
Utah State started the game in high gear, asserting a 15-5 lead in just under six minutes. But as starter Jordan Stone got into foul trouble, the Aggies struggled to adjust without center depth. Ben Clifford and Davis each got time there, but had to work hard to hold ground against 260-pound center Michael Ochereobia.
The Aggies got back up to speed as the half came to close, finishing on a 9-2 run. Davis gave USU momentum into the locker room with a fast-break dunk to make it a 35-24 lead at the break.
Morrill said his makeshift centers did “fine” in Shaw’s absence, and praised Stone’s defensive presence in the second half. Stone finished with four rebounds and two blocks to go with four points.
UC Santa Barbara 57, Troy 54 • The Gauchos trailed into the second half, but managed a late comeback topped by a game-winning 3-pointer by Kyle Boswell with only 8 seconds left. UCSB was led by a 18-point, 11-rebound effort by forward Alan Williams. Hunter Williams poured in 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting from three-point range to lead Troy.