Utah State basketball: Aggies come up short vs. Air Force
By Michael C. Lewis
Special to The TribuneFirst published Jan 01 2014 10:05PM
Air Force Academy, Colo. • The Utah State Aggies had survived four straight games against lesser competition with starting center and leading scorer Jarred Shaw under suspension following his arrest on charges of felony drug distribution.
But that all changed in their first game in the Mountain West Conference.
With the 6-foot-10 Shaw again on the bench in street clothes, the Aggies lost to Air Force 73-72 on Wednesday night when their final play of the game fell apart and freshman forward Jalen Moore couldn’t get a last-second 3-pointer to fall at Clune Arena.
It didn’t help that the Aggies were outrebounded by a team with only one player taller than 6-foot-7, gave up 51 percent shooting and could make only one basket in the final 71/2 minutes.
"You can’t go on the road and give up those kind of percentages and expect to win," coach Stew Morrill said.
The Ags did have a chance in the final seconds, but the Falcons surprised them by defending a screen differently and forcing them into a desperation scramble before Moore’s contested shot glanced harmlessly off the rim.
"It’s a game we should have won, we all know that," Moore said. "But we’ll come out strong" against San Jose State at home on Saturday, "work on our defense, rebounding — all that stuff we need to improve on to get a win."
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Aggies, who fell to 10-3 overall and lost their conference opener for the first time in four years. The Falcons improved to 7-5 overall and snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Aggies dating to 1971.
The Aggies clearly missed Shaw on the defensive end, where the Falcons at first bombed away with 3-pointers and then started slashing mercilessly to the basket for layups and fouls once 6-10 junior center Jordan Stone had to sit down with foul trouble, leaving Utah State with nobody to protect the basket.
"You look at the percentages, it’s one thing," Morrill said. "But then we fouled them a ton and they made their free throws. So that compounds your defensive mistakes. We were OK offensively. They make it hard for you, but we were OK. We just didn’t give ourselves a chance to win on the defensive end."
The Falcons made 19 of 24 free throws, and outrebounded the Aggies 30-26.
They also benefitted from Utah State’s inability to generate much offense inside.
The Ags shot 27 3-pointers among their 56 shots — they made 10 of them — and made just one of their last 10 shots in the final 71/2 minutes, almost all of them from outside. Strangely, the Aggies had been on fire for most of the second half, shooting 72 percent to that point and using a 31-20 run to build a 67-61 lead.
"This isn’t the first time we’ve come back in the second half," Air Force’s Tre Coggins said. "When we get down we don’t hang our head. We know we have an opportunity to come back. I think we just showed some toughness."
Coggins was particularly crucial for the Falcons, shaking off a poor first half due to foul trouble to score 12 of his 14 points after halftime — though he almost blew it for them at the end.
With the lead and the ball and just 16 seconds left, he unwisely tried to dribble away some time in his own backcourt. That allowed Utah State’s Marcel Davis to swat the ball off Coggins’ leg and out of bounds, just moments after Davis had been called for a controversial double-dribble that appeared to doom the Aggies’ chances.
That set up the final sequence, though the Aggies ultimately could not do anything with it.
"In the end, they made the bigger plays," Utah State’s Spencer Butterfield said.
Guard Preston Medlin led the Aggies with 19 points, while Butterfield added 16 and Moore 14. Forward Marek Olesinski — the only Falcon taller than 6-7 at 6-9 — joined guard Max Yon in scoring 21 points each to lead their team.