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Utah State basketball: Aggies pull out sloppy win over San Jose State

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Utah State forward Kyisean Reed (34) dunks the ball on San Jose State forward Chris Cunningham (15) during an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 11 2013 10:12PM
Updated Jan 12, 2013 12:24AM

Logan • It was a close shave for Utah State.

The Aggies had to sweat out a 66-60 victory over San Jose State (9-7, 3-2) in front of one of the season’s largest crowds Friday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Preston Medlin boosted Utah State (14-1, 5-0) to its 13th straight win in a game of spurts and sputters, another contest in which the team had to stave off suspense until the final minute.

It was fortunate for the Aggies that the Spartans’ leading scorer, James Kinney, and key reserve Louis Garrett never had a say in the matter, sitting out for an unspecified violation of team rules. Utah State was able to make the game a slugfest instead of a shootout, and won ugly.

"It was a physical game," coach Stew Morrill said. "San Jose had some guys who didn’t play, but the guys who did play added some athleticism out there. Their whole deal was to pressure us."

Medlin certainly did well under the circumstances, shooting for a season-high 25 points and dishing out five assists. And 11 of those points came at the free-throw line, where Medlin had a perfect shooting night.

Lately, the team has put a lot of weight on the junior guard. And he’s responded with aggression on the court, surpassing the 20-point mark for the fifth time in seven games.

"There’s nothing really that’s exactly changed," Medlin said. "Shots are just falling or I’m taking smarter looks. My teammates have done really well of getting me open, so it’s good for this team and good for me."

But it certainly wasn’t one of the most graceful wins for the Aggies.

They shot well, and held San Jose to low percentages, but turnovers by Utah State and second-chance points for the Spartans kept the margin to single digits all night.

In the first half, a nine-to-two turnover ratio in San Jose State’s favor prevented the Aggies from getting ahead.

Many of the giveaways were Utah State’s own doing while trying to get down the court in transition. Pressure defense added to the frustration, as the Spartans went after freshman point guard Marcel Davis.

But even as they tightened their ball security, the Aggies gave up easy offensive rebounds. The Spartans got a number of simple tip-ins and putbacks, keeping them in the game.

Still, ruggedness elsewhere won out for Utah State. Jarred Shaw had another double-double, knocking back 12 points and 10 rebounds. Spencer Butterfield recovered from some turnover issues to score 13 points and propel the Aggies along. A crowd of 9,191 — many of them sporting real or fake facial hair for a Spectrum "Beard-out" — cheered as they rallied.

It was another gritty win in a chain of similar victories — not emphatic, but just enough. That’s been enough to lead the Western Athletic Conference.

Next week against New Mexico State and Denver, the Aggies will have to do it on the road.

"At this point, we’ve done our job and got a couple of road wins and we have protected our home court in the league," Morrill said. "Now it is time to try to get better next week and see what we can do on the road."

kgoon@sltrib.com" target="_blank">class="TEXT_no_Indent">kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

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