Logan • Free throws to seal a win? No big deal.
After last year’s whirlwind, injury-riddled season that thrust Ben Clifford into a starting role, this year, the junior said he’s ready for anything.
Mississippi State at Utah State
That includes being at the line to lock up Utah State’s win last week at UC Santa Barbara. That includes working his way back from a foot fracture before the season started. One of the most veteran players on the team, Clifford said he’s drawn on his experience to guide him so far.
"I feel there’s four or five us that have almost been through it all," he said. "Situations, the way the game feels, all of us have been through that before. That’s what last year did. Going through those times helped me prepare and helped everyone prepare, I think."
In September, the 6-foot-7 forward was playing pick-up when he felt a jolt of pain in his foot.
An X-ray quickly revealed a fracture, possibly an old injury that had went unnoticed at another point in his career. The Utah State coaching staff expected him to be able to contribute significantly at the start of December, but he managed to work his way back several weeks ahead of schedule.
He was cleared the Sunday before taking the court against SUU, and coach Stew Morrill indicated he might have to wait for another game before he saw time. So when Morrill gestured for him to come off the bench against the Thunderbirds, Clifford acknowledges that he was caught off-guard.
"When he called me to go in, I was pretty surprised," he said. "It helped to get in, though, so it’s been pretty good. Once the bones heal in the foot, it’s just about getting the muscles back and the feeling back."
Morrill indicated last week that it might be a bit of a tricky balance of minutes with Clifford’s return. But with 10 points and three rebounds in 12 minutes, Utah State’s most experienced frontcourt player is making an argument for a significant role. He impressed at the foul line, going 4 for 4 in the final 20 seconds to ensure victory.
From his perspective, Clifford sees the power forward spot evolving into a rotation that will rely on everyone to play well.
"We’re all friends, so it’s not going to be cutthroat or anything," he said. "What I think is going to happen is each one of us is going to get a chance to play and have a breakout game. I don’t think any of us are going to be stuck on the bench all year. That’s what I hope."
Shaw getting extra attention from defenses
The double- and triple-teams Jarred Shaw gets are recognition of how the senior center has come along for Utah State.
At least that’s how he sees it. Defenses, such as UC Santa Barbara last week, are paying him extra mind because of the kind of games he put up against Southern Utah: 24 points and 11 rebounds.
The Gauchos did their best to limit the Aggies’ 6-foot-11 weapon, and were successful to an extent. Shaw was held to nine points and nine rebounds. But whereas last year, that might’ve put him in a funk, this year, he’s seeing the positive side of it — a running theme for Shaw in the last year.
"As long as we win, I don’t care what I have. I want to showcase myself and get to the next level, but I feel like winning can be just as important. If it’s an off night scoring, I’ll try to rebound. I’m just trying to find different ways to light the ‘A’ blue."
Of course, Utah State’s coaching staff would like to see him rein in the five turnovers he had against UCSB. But Shaw said he’s realized that an extra defender on him opens up the floor for others.
When he’s not pouring in points, he’s more apt to look for other ways to contribute.
"Make the extra pass, don’t be selfish, it’s not all about scoring," he said. "Just whatever I can do besides scoring."
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