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Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson (1) congratulates Cezar Guerrero (3) during the final seconds of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Utah State basketball: Aggies fall to Fresno State 79-76
Mountain West » The Aggies’ defense falters in their third straight defeat.
First Published Feb 22 2014 07:11 pm • Last Updated Feb 23 2014 12:48 pm

Logan • Like so many nights this season, Saturday night saw Utah State try to dig itself out of a hole.

The Aggies almost did it. They shot confidently. They passed the ball well. They didn’t give away the turnovers that have lost other games.

At a glance

Storylines USU on the decline

Unable to stop Fresno State’s attack, the Aggies lose their third straight game.» Utah State starters Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield combine for 16 points on 5-for-19 shooting.» Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson leads all scorers with 21 points, and the Bulldogs go 11-for-23 on 3-pointers.

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But Utah State also couldn’t stop Fresno State from scoring. And that was the Aggies’ undoing in a 79-76 defeat, the team’s third straight loss, which keeps them sinking in the Mountain West standings.

"We just couldn’t guard them — or wouldn’t guard them, whatever," coach Stew Morrill said. "They just went around us. When we tried to play zone, they hit a three. Our defense was lacking."

The Bulldogs’ perimeter players feasted on 3-point shots, going 11-for-23 on the night. They also had some success driving the ball on the Aggies’ wings. Whatever Utah State tried, it never quite glued together.

Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson led all scorers with 21 points, and his teammates Paul Watson and Marvelle Harris added 20 and 15, respectively. It contrasted a pedestrian night from Utah State’s own perimeter players, as starters Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield combined for 16 points on 5-for-19 shooting.

Coming in as the No. 3-ranked 3-point shooting team in the country, the Aggies shot only 28.6 percent from beyond the arc.

The paint was where Utah State made its biggest impact. Jarred Shaw led the Aggies with 18 points, sparking the run that brought the team out of a 16-point first-half hole and eventually gave them the lead. Kyle Davis bounced back from a recent string of tough nights with a 14-point, 15-rebound performance.

When the Aggies got their first lead of the second half, 45-44 on a layup by TeNale Roland, they appeared to be on the road to a stunning comeback. But every shot the Aggies made, the Bulldogs were quick to follow up. And a free throw by Watson with 15 minutes left proved to be the last Utah State ever saw of the lead.

The closest the Aggies got was at the end: Butterfield hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left, but they were forced to foul, and Harris made both free throws. Roland gave Utah State a glimmer of hope with 1.9 seconds left with a midrange jumper, but the Aggies couldn’t recover the last two inbound passes.


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Even at the end, they couldn’t find a stop.

"We’ve got to find some way to get better on defense," Shaw said. "Our one-on-one defense wasn’t there tonight. I think they just outscrapped us, played better defense than us, and that determined the game."

Fresno State entered the break with a 39-33 lead, but it could have been much worse. Behind Shaw, the Aggies clawed back into a game they trailed by as much as 16 points.

The Bulldogs struggled initially, but surged to a 16-2 run in the first half. An interior focus helped Utah State get back in it — a 15-5 run allowed the Aggies to pull within six with two seconds left in the first on a hook by Shaw.

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon



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