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Utah State basketball: Aggies’ rally falls short against La. Tech

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Utah State guard Marcel Davis passes the ball as Louisiana Tech forward J.L. Lewis (25) guard Brandon Gibson and guard Cordarius Johnson, right, defend during their NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 26 2013 10:17PM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:33PM

Logan • When Spencer Butterfield hit a game-tying free throw with 1:42 left, erasing a 13-point halftime gap, the 8,530 fans at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum were on their feet, ready to greet the end of a three-game losing streak.

But a Raheem Appleby 3-pointer that swished in only 16 seconds later was the final word in another defeat for Utah State. The remaining time flew by without another pause, and a last-ditch attempt by Ben Clifford clanged out, leaving the Aggies with a 51-48 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday night.

It’s the first time ever the program has lost four straight games under coach Stew Morrill, but the entire second half, momentum slowly tilted Utah State’s way. Defense and rebounding brought them on the brink of dealing the Bulldogs their first conference loss.

"We were working our tails off," said Butterfield, who finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. "We just had the mentality we weren’t going to lose. Everybody was just giving everything they had. It was a tough loss, but I’m proud to be a part of this team."

The nine-man Utah State squad has struggled with injuries to key players this year, leading to its previous three losses. The Aggies appeared headed in that direction again against Louisiana Tech, shooting only 7 for 24 in the first half to go down 35-22 at the intermission.

Somehow, Utah State shot worse in the second half, but crept back into the game.

Louisiana Tech started out cold, shooting a few bricks, and the Aggies gobbled up every rebound to the tune of a 50-31 edge. Only shooting 5 for 27 from the field in the second half against the zone, the Bulldogs couldn’t set their press that had so flustered Utah State earlier.

It was Jarred Shaw’s finest game. The 6-foot-10 junior played his part as the Aggies’ go-to guy with a career-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. He tailored up his defense as well, contributing four blocks and helping limit the Bulldogs to only six second-half points in the paint.

"I have no problem with our effort," Morrill said. "We played really, really hard. … We had chances, we have limitations, but as I told them afterward, as long as you compete and try hard, we’ll live with the results."

Appleby’s final shot reflected how Utah State got in such a hole to begin with. In the first half, it was Brandon Gibson who torched the nets from behind the arc. The senior finished with a career-high six 3-pointers, five of them in the first half.

When he left the game with less than seven minutes left after getting shaken up in a tangle with Clifford, Lousiana Tech froze up. It took more than five minutes before the Bulldogs would score again — their last field goal of the game that proved to be the difference.

It was gut-wrenching for Utah State, which was seeking momentum headed into a three-game road trip the next two weeks. With Idaho, Seattle and San Jose State ahead, the Aggies will have to find a win away from Logan.

At the very least, playing the WAC favorites to the brink gave the Aggies reason to stand up a little straighter and raise their heads a little higher. But only a victory will bring complete relief.

"I think it says we’re getting better: Don’t give up on this team yet," Butterfield said. "We’re going to keep coming to work every single day. We’re gonna do something good coming up — I can feel it."

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

Twitter: @kylegoon

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