Las Vegas • Surely Utah State had better finishes in mind.
An upset win over San Diego State might’ve been a pipe dream, but not completely fantastic: The Aggies had come close before. Coach Stew Morrill and his squad might’ve settled for a single-digit nailbiter as long as they played as hard as they could.
What happened Thursday, however, was somewhat fitting. A day after some game-winning theatrics that should live on in fans’ memories, Utah State was completely overwhelmed, revealed as an outgunned team in a league with some very good ones.
If Morrill’s forecast for passing on the postseason is accurate, then a 73-39 blowout in the second round of the Mountain West Tournament served as a tough finish to a tough season. The Aggies had talent and experience, but simply weren’t ready for the rigors they had to face.
“It’s a tremendous jump when you jump one time from one league,” Morrill said. “We did that from the Big West to the WAC. They you take the next jump, I mean, that’s an interesting journey.”
The journey, at least in conference play, was rife with disappointment. It began with a loss at Air Force and stayed mostly bumpy from there. The Aggies recouped some strength when Jarred Shaw was able to return from a suspension, but there never was a solid sense they felt comfortable in their new league.
There were brief runs, such as Utah State’s three-game win streak to start the second half of league. It offered glimmers and glimpses of the team voted to finish fifth in the preseason. At their best, the Aggies were strong shooters, relentless rebounders, and they showed effort — if not quickness — on defense.
But they could never sustain it. The first win at San Jose State was followed by a loss to Nevada. The first road win at Colorado State was followed by a home drubbing by UNLV.
In a way, it made sense that Utah State’s biggest comeback was followed by its biggest defeat.
“We were excited to play, we were looking forward to it,” Morrill said on Thursday. “As well as it went for us last night was as bad as it went today.”
What’s left now is building. Even with one of the more naturally talented classes of recent years, the wins and losses showed Utah State was not fully prepared for the Mountain West. Morrill admitted he had been “slapped across the face” by making the leap to his new league.
With young players such as Kyle Davis, Jalen Moore and JoJo McGlaston, there’s some talent who will take experience into next year. An incoming guard-heavy class of 2014 signees is coming in, a mixture of junior college scorers and high school players with potential. The coaching staff is still looking — particularly at the junior college ranks — for players who can come make an immediate impact.
Losing four starters next season will be its own challenge, one the program will attack aggressively now that it is seasoned in the Mountain West. The Aggies have learned that the difference between success and failure in the Mountain West is a thin margin of error.
But the difference between being on one side of that line or the other can be huge.