Boise, Idaho • It had the makings of Utah State’s biggest win to date — if only it had been a win.
The Aggies trailed by double digits in each half of their Saturday game against Boise State, but came back both times against the Broncos to make it close at the finish. But the finish is where they couldn’t find an answer in the 78-74 defeat.
On one hand, a close-fought game. On the other, another loss on the road.
Is it progress? Coach Stew Morrill argued it was.
“We’re competing,” he said. “We’re competing really hard. It’s all you can ask as a coach is compete really hard. Make a layup on the press-breaker, or make a shot at the end and we win. But it didn’t happen.”
With a few Mountain West games under its belt, it’s still unclear if Utah State is building toward competitiveness this season, or merely an average team that may not turn the corner. What may separate one from the other is the team’s ability to finish games, which was called into question at Boise.
Utah State had one of its better offensive performances since beginning conference play, shooting well over 50 percent for the second half. In stretches when the Aggies appeared on the cusp of being upended by Boise’s 3-point shooting or offensive rebounding, they found ways to hang in.
Coming out of timeouts in response to the Broncos’ runs, Utah State would get quick baskets: a Jarred Shaw hook here, a TeNale Roland or Preston Medlin 3-pointer there.
What had looked like a blowout would suddenly become a back-and-forth tilt.
But then there was the execution at the end of the game, which was a struggle. Boise State guard Derrick Marks got whatever shot he wanted at the end of the game, from layups to short jumpers. The help defense, which Morrill touted as an improvement before Saturday, didn’t show up in the final three minutes on Marks.
“We let Marks get off and get a couple baskets,” Shaw said. “We should’ve came over to help at little bit. It’s just a learning experience.”
It will also be a learning experience to review the final few plays the Aggies ran.
The strength was with 23 seconds left, when Utah State patiently worked the ball to Shaw. The senior center took a shot that had been almost unstoppable to that point — a short turnaround hook — but chance made it bobble out. It felt good off his fingers, Shaw said afterward, but it was just a miss.
There’s definite room for improvement on press-breakers however. Marcel Davis couldn’t finish a strong look, being overtaken by Marks. Spencer Butterfield’s final overthrow on the inbounds pass with a few seconds to spare will be picked over.
It’s not necessarily a new problem for the team: A last-ditch 3-pointer by Jalen Moore at Air Force raised some eyebrows at the Aggies’ ability to close out in the Mountain West.
Utah State can’t make mistakes in the final minute on the road and expect to win. Finishing games mistake-free may well be the progress that finally gives the Aggies a victory.
Aggies lack finishing touch vs. Boise State
• The Aggies can’t stop Derrick Marks at the end of the game.
• The final four possessions come up empty on offense.
• Utah State loses another close Mountain West road contest.