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Utah State basketball: Aggies seek more momentum going into Mountain West tournament

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 06:07 pm


Utah State men’s basketball » A little more momentum could make them a more dangerous team.

The Utah State men's basketball team can't undo a season's worth of inconsistency. The Aggies have wins over Nevada and Fresno State, and a one-possession loss to Boise State — each a top-four team in the Mountain West — yet overall have managed only a 7-10 record in conference play.

However, the Aggies could be a menace in next week's conference tournament.

USU can enter the postseason on a three-game win streak if it can beat UNLV at 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas — the site of next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament.




The Aggies (13-15, 7-10 MW) logged their largest margin of victory since joining the Mountain West when they blew out Air Force by 31 points, 89-58, on Saturday. They'll also catch UNLV (10-19, 3-13 MW) on a nine-game losing slide.

"Anybody can beat anybody this year," Aggies senior forward Jalen Moore said after Saturday's win. "We've all seen that. We beat Nevada. Lower teams have beaten people. Everyone is playing well. You've got to bring your A-game every night out. That's what we try to do from here on out. We want to make some people look out for us. We want to make people not want to play us in the first or second round of the tournament."

The Aggies, who have struggled on the road this season, earned their first conference road win at San Jose State last Wednesday. That victory served as a springboard into Saturday's romp. Utah State has shot 55 percent or better in each of its past two games.

Aggie coach Tim Duryea said the recent offensive success starts with freshmen guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill. On Saturday, McEwen went 3 for 6 from the floor with eight points and dished out six assists with just two turnovers. Merrill went 4 for 6 with 12 points, nine assists and no turnovers.

"We just really did a good job seeing the floor," Duryea said. "We had been playing so frantic and so in a hurry for a couple weeks. Maybe they're just kind of getting through all that. Knock on wood. Hopefully, that continues because they're in a good groove the last two games."

McEwen, a 6-foot-4 point guard, enters this week ranked second on the Aggies and 10th in the conference in scoring (14.5 points per game). Merrill, a 6-foot-4 combo guard who has averaged 9.3 points per game, has shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range, leads the conference in assist-turnover ratio (three assists per each turnover) and has become the team's top perimeter defender.

Prior to last week, it appeared the duo had hit the proverbial freshman wall. In the five games prior to San Jose, McEwen shot 28.6 percent from the field (21.7 percent on 3-pointers) and averaged 9.8 points and 3.8 turnovers per game. While Merrill's scoring went up to 10 points per game during that stretch (from 8.7 for the season to that point), he made just shot 34 percent of his shots (39 percent on 3-pointers).

The duo bounced back by becoming the first pair of freshmen in Aggies history to score 20 points or more in the same game when McEwen tossed in 23 and Merrill added 22 at San Jose State. They carried the confidence from that win into Saturday night, and they served as catalysts for another tremendous offensive display which led Duryea to quip after the game, "What a difference a week makes."

lworthy@sltrib.com Twitter: @LWorthySports

 

AT A GLANCE

Utah State at UNLV

At Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas.

When » 9 p.m. MST Wednesday.

TV » ESPNU.

Radio » 610 AM, 102.1 FM.

Records » Utah State 13-15, 7-10 MW; UNLV 10-19, 3-13 MW.

Series » UNLV leads 31-5.

Last meeting » Utah State won 79-63 on Jan. 7.

About the Aggies » Senior forward Jalen Moore enters this week ranked fifth in the Mountain West in scoring (16.6 ppg), fourth in field goal percentage (47.9 percent) and third in 3-point shooting percentage (42.4 percent). … Freshman guard Koby McEwen ranks 10th in the conference in scoring (14.5 ppg) and seventh in assists (3.0 per game). McEwen also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds in a win on Saturday. It marked the 18th time this season he recorded at least five rebounds in a game.

About the Runnin’ Rebels » The Rebels are coming off of a 94-58 loss at home against Nevada on Saturday night. The Rebels, who have allowed opponents to shoot 46 percent his season, have lost their past two games (against Air Force and Nevada) by a total of 59 points. … The Rebels enter the week with the worst scoring defense (76.3 ppg) in the conference and the second-lowest scoring offense (69.2 ppg).


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