Kragthorpe: Utah State makes last minute memorable
By Kurt Kragthorpe
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 12 2014 07:17PM
Las Vegas • As Utah State freshman Jalen Moore’s shot sailed toward the basket, the Aggies trailed Colorado State by seven points.
Not even 20 seconds later, Utah State was leading.
Amid all of the madness that went into the Aggies’ 73-69 victory in the first round of the Mountain West tournament Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center, a 19-second period will be replayed over and over.
USU’s play-by-play summary, from the 59-second mark to the 40-second mark: 3-pointer, steal, missed shot, offensive rebound, another 3-pointer and two free throws after a CSU technical foul.
Add it up, and it’s unlike anything that CSU’s Larry Eustachy and USU’s Stew Morrill had ever experienced in their combined 51 years as head coaches — including their tenures at each other’s current school.
Eustachy cited an "unusual, uncanny chain of events," and that was an understatement.
It all happened "like a blur, how fast things were going," Morrill said. "Just so many things had to go right."
And wrong, from CSU’s perspective.
Having completely outplayed No. 8-seeded USU in the second half, the No. 9 Rams seemingly were in control, leading 62-51 with 2:40 to play. The irony of what unfolded from that point was that all day, the Aggies had trouble finishing their scoring chances around the rim.
They finished this game quite nicely, with a closing run of 22-7. It’s amazing how one game that USU basically stole can change the entire view of the Aggies’ first season as Mountain West members. The reality is they have to play No. 1 seed San Diego State in Thursday’s quarterfinals. But regardless of what happens against SDSU, the Aggies won’t have to live with an ugly loss to CSU, as appeared to be unavoidable.
They’ll have the memories of a comeback for the ages, with an ending that began rather innocently. USU started trading 3-pointers for free throws, making a gradual impact.
The Rams were still up by nine points with 1:35 left, before USU’s TeNale Roland made a layup, Smith missed a one-and-one free throw - and then everything got crazy.
Moore hesitated before launching a 3-pointer, but he drilled it. As a Sky View High School senior last March, Moore made a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat Bountiful in a Class 4A semifinal game. In this case, after making a critical shot in the last minute, he needed to make a few more big plays.
"We were trying to get the pressure going on them and make them turn it over a little bit," Moore said.
Moore stole the ball after a scramble near mid-court, then he rebounded Preston Medlin’s missed jumper, enabling Spencer Butterfield to make a 3-pointer.
The Aggies were out of timeouts, but that may have helped them. Before CSU could in-bound the ball, guard Daniel Bejarano received a technical foul for taunting a USU player - immediately after being warned during another exchange, according to a statement from referee Randy McCall.
USU’s reserve players were practically tackling one another on the sideline, both in celebration and as an act of restraint.
On CSU’s end, Eustachy strongly argued the call. But he didn’t complain about it in the postgame news conference, and Smith blamed his teammate.
"We’ve just got to keep our heads in a situation like that," Smith said. "The game’s too important."
Butterfield’s two free throws gave USU a 67-66 lead with 40 seconds left. "We just stayed really positive," Butterfield said.
And the Rams kept crumbling, losing another turnover. That them forced to foul Butterfield, who made two more free throws. One more crazy sequence ensued: With eight seconds left, CSU’s Joe De Ciman drove for a layup attempt, and Moore foolishly - or perhaps shrewdly - fouled him. The sequence easily could have turned into a tying 3-point play, but the shot bounced off the rim and De Ciman then missed one of his free throws. Butterfield clinched the victory with two free throws of his own.
So after scoring 18 points in the first 17 minutes of the second half, the Aggies scored 24 points in the last three minutes.