It was far from an artful finish, but coach Stew Morrill was willing to take his 600th career win any way he could get it.
It wasn’t so much the milestone as it was the need to break out of a four-game losing streak. Utah State (16-13, 6-11) needed a win Saturday night. In an ugly but dominating performance, the Aggies got it.
"Well [the 600th win] not been something we’ve dwelt on because we’ve been worrying about how to win a game," Morrill said in his postgame radio comments on KVNU. "It was a bigger burden. I need to thank these kids."
The Aggies got a lift from their starters in the 75-58 win over San Jose State, only the team’s second road win in Mountain West play. Utah State showed early determination to break free from its recent slide with an early run that helped it cruise with a double-digit lead for almost the whole game.
Morrill became the 41st Division I coach to earn career 600 wins, and only the 14th active D-I coach to have at least that many. And although it wasn’t the cleanest game he’s won in his career, Morrill’s Aggies showed intensity on defense that helped make up for their mistakes: The Spartans shot only 30 percent from the field.
"The great thing about us is we were able to play good defense tonight," said Spencer Butterfield, who finished with a game-high 22 points. "Even when we didn’t make shots on our end, we could get stops. I think that’s the key for our team this year, we need to get those stops to win."
Utah State set the tone with urgency, sledding out to a 12-0 lead in the first four-and-a-half minutes while San Jose State struggled to get started. Even in the first half, the Aggies led by as much as 14 while climbing to a 39-28 lead.
If anything, Utah State might have underwhelmed offensively in the second half: The team was only 15-for-37 on 2-point shots in the game, and coughed up the ball nine times after the intermission. San Jose State’s pressure played a factor in some of the Aggies’ sloppier play.
But the key was the Spartans played even more poorly in the face of Utah State’s man defense. After burning the Aggies at the 3-point line in their first meeting, San Jose State shot only six 3-pointers on Saturday night. Utah State also racked up a season-best eight steals and ended up plus-15 in rebounding.
Although Morrill thought his team could’ve put up 90 points in the game, he was glad to see how the Aggies compensated.
"I was really pleased with how intense we were," he said. "We guarded the 3-point line well, which was huge for us."
It was also a good night to be in the starting lineup. Butterfield had a sizzling night playing in front of family members, shooting 7-for-12 and adding 7 rebounds. Jarred Shaw had 19 points and a career-best 17 boards while owning the paint for the Aggies.
Preston Medlin hit the first two 3-pointers that sparked the early run and finished with 12 points and 3 assists. TeNale Roland was scrappy with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.
The only Utah State bench player to score was Jalen Moore with six points.
The Aggies improved to ninth place in the conference, gaining a win while Air Force lost earlier on Saturday. The team finishes out the season at home on Wednesday against Wyoming.
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