Las Vegas • If Utah State had played San Jose State, or Nevada, or Fresno State, its offensive output would’ve been more than good enough to advance to the second round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
On a day when most of the teams in the league struggled mightily to score in a mostly quiet and sullen Orleans Arena, the Aggies had the misfortune of drawing the wrong opponent.
Storylines Utah State falls to Louisiana TechUtah State loses in the first round of the WAC tournament for just the second time under coach Stew Morrill.
» The Aggies’ rally in the final moments falls short.
» USU falls to 17-15 on the season.
Louisiana Tech was the only team on Thursday to make 3-pointers at a sizzling clip. Combined with quickness and a hunger to attack the basket off the dribble, it should come as no surprise that USU had extreme difficulty defending the Bulldogs throughout.
The 72-70 defeat, and the distinction of being bounced in the first round of a conference tournament for the first time in the Stew Morrill era, is surely disappointing to Utah State fans. But, when taking into account the struggles of a 14-loss season, it should be hardly surprising.
With a chance to tie, Preston Medlin couldn’t get a shot off as the clock wound down. Had he made a shot, it would’ve capped a furious rally, as USU made up a double-digit deficit in the last seven minutes.
The Aggies, several times, had the ball down one possession, as they rallied from 69-58 down. Once, Ben Clifford turned the ball over. With time running out, Trevor Gaskins missed a free throw, setting up Medlin, who lost his handle on the ball and couldn’t regain it.
On a late Thursday night, USU’s issues in 40 minutes were mere footnotes to what has happened all year: a lack of inside scoring, shoddy rebounding when it mattered and a porous defense through critical junctures.
There had been hope that, finally, Utah State was awakening and starting to resemble the program that had been to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Indeed, three consecutive wins sparked optimism that the Aggies could be a dark horse in a tournament expected to be dominated by Nevada and New Mexico State.
But Louisiana Tech, which USU had beaten twice during the regular season, obviously had other ideas. The Bulldogs started the game with a 10-0 run while the Aggies jogged through the first five minutes.
Things looked like they were changing, however, as Utah State countered with a 20-3 run that yielded a 20-13 advantage. It looked as if the Aggies would run away, or at the very least pull away, for a comfortable win.
Utah State, for the first time in three years, won’t go to the Big Dance. At 17-15, the Aggies aren’t likely to garner an NIT berth either. There is a chance that Utah State could get an invite to the CBI Tournament, but there isn’t a guarantee that the Aggies would accept.
Sophomore Danny Berger scored a career-high 17 points to lead USU. Brockeith Pane, who came alive in the final moments, scored 13 points and had three assists in what may have been his final game as an Aggie. Medlin, a first-team All-WAC selection, had just six points, but he had eight assists and five rebounds, passing off because Louisiana Tech focused its defense on him.
However, Louisiana Tech made eight 3-pointers and received double-digit scoring from four players. The Bulldogs never stopped attacking, and they were able to wear down the Aggies early in the second half.
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