Logan • Stew Morrill believes Utah State can still compete with four games left in the conference regular season.
But coming off a mentally taxing 60-45 loss to San Diego State on Tuesday night, he’s trying to make sure his players believe as well. The Aggies now have lost back-to-back contests with some of their stars suffering not-so-great nights, but Morrill said the key will be keeping the faith in themselves.
“You gotta believe you can play,” he said. “I’ve always believed that: You have to believe you can play the game. If you don’t, it’s a struggle.”
It’s something of a surprise to see the Aggies struggling mightily on offense after it has been a strong suit this season. The last two games, Utah State has shot a combined 33.9 percent against UNLV and San Diego State, two of the most defensively athletic teams in the Mountain West.
That troubling figure has been paired with some underwhelming performances by top Aggies players. Preston Medlin scored a combined 11 points in the games, shooting 3 for 21. Kyle Davis scored four against UNLV, then couldn’t score at all against the Aztecs.
Those might be the biggest examples, but production is down across the board for the most part.
With Fresno State, winner of five of its last six, coming in on Saturday, Morrill said it will be critical for his team to take advantage practice and regain its shooting touch. This time of year, he said, some teams fade away, but he doesn’t think his squad will.
“What is expected of our guys is that they go out every night and compete,” he said. “I think they’ll do that the rest of the way.”
Aggies face former recruiting target
It’s fairly common these days for a college team to find itself across the court from a prospect it once coveted. As Morrill reviewed film for the incoming Bulldogs, he knows he’ll be wishing he had gotten Tyler Johnson when the senior starts on Saturday.
“Tyler Johnson is having as good a year as any guard in the conference,” he said. “He’s a Fresno kid. We tried like heck to get him. We were right there, and he elected to stay home, which happens sometimes.”
Johnson is quietly assembling his best year for Fresno State, leading the team with 16.4 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game while hitting nearly 43 percent of his 3-pointers. In conference play, those averages have been higher.
“He can pull up, he can shoot threes, really rebounds the ball — really impressive,” Morrill said. “I love the guys that just keep getting better from their freshman year to their senior year, every year they just make jumps. That’s what he’s done.”
Freshmen in the mix?
On Tuesday night, Morrill said he liked what he saw from his freshman players who came in late against SDSU. Jalen Moore had five points, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 19 minutes. Viko Noma’aea had six points in only three minutes, while JoJo McGlaston had two points with an assist and a block.
But Morrill wouldn’t commit to saying those young players would play more as the Aggies finish out the year.
“There’s a chance,” he said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how people play. It’s all about production. You play well, then you’re out there more.”
Utah State vs. Fresno State
O Saturday, 7 p.m.
Online • Aggies take shot at NFL
O Utah State is sending four pro-football prospects — a USU record — to the NFL Combine this weekend. > sltrib.com/sports