Logan • Even after watching the film from Utah State’s lackluster game against UNLV, the Aztecs stepped into the Spectrum with caution.
No. 7 San Diego State wasn’t expecting the Aggies to lay down Saturday night. And the Aggies didn’t disappoint, giving the Aztecs all they could handle in a 74-69 overtime battle.
“They do their jobs,” SDSU forward J.J. O’Brien said. “They execute and they do a good job with it.”
Utah State (12-7, 2-5) is on a three-game losing streak, and the Aggies haven’t lost sight of that trend. Frustration was evident after the latest defeat, yet another close loss for a team trying to establish itself during its first year in the Mountain West.
But Saturday night was at least a flash of the potential Utah State still has. The results haven’t been going their way, but the Aggies still displayed an ability to compete when they’re set on competing. Coach Stew Morrill said there wasn’t anything magical to the improvement from the week’s early game — a 62-42 loss at UNLV — to their last. The home atmosphere and the prospect of beating a ranked team helped charge the air at the Spectrum and might’ve spurred the Aggies on.
But the players also identified pride as a source of the fortitude they showed against SDSU — why even in the closing seconds of regulation, as the game was slipping away, they found a way to give themselves another chance.
“We just got to pull together,” Spencer Butterfield said. “You’ve got two choices: You can lay down and give up or you can keep fighting. The good thing about this team is we keep fighting.”
The Aggies were again without the team’s best rebounder, Kyle Davis, a clear issue against UNLV that held them back. On Saturday, they adapted.
Although the Aztecs were able to get double-digit offensive rebounds, 10 of the 12 were in the first half. Utah State found ways to collect defensive boards, even as its second-best rebounder, Jarred Shaw, was in foul trouble.
Jalen Moore had a breakout game, scoring 16 points and chipping in seven rebounds starting in place of Davis. Spencer Butterfield had a team-high eight rebounds, and Danny Berger and Jordan Stone had solid post minutes coming off the bench.
The Aggies also made the shots they missed Wednesday, shooting 52.7 percent for the game and hitting nine total 3-pointers. That shooting form, and the screens that helped open up the shots, were critical to the second-half surge that saw the Aggies leading the game for a time.
Ultimately, 17 turnovers — and the 15 points that came off those turnovers — helped seal the deal for San Diego State. But the Aggies showed growth after perhaps the low point of the season and offered fans some hope that Tuesday’s home game against New Mexico might just swing their way.
If Lobos center Alex Kirk is out, and Davis can return from a knee injury, the losing streak may soon turn around.
“We gotta keep fighting,” Morrill said. “We’ve got to find a way to dare to win a game down the stretch.”
New Mexico at Utah State
P Tuesday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU