Logan • Both teams came into the game on a four-game losing streak. One more loss and the road in the Mountain West Conference tournament would become a little more daunting than it already was.
Fortunately for Utah State, it won’t be the Aggies.
In a Saturday night contest against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, Utah State took a 79-67 win to claim seventh place in the MWC standings. That means the Aggies will take on 10th-place Colorado State on Wednesday in Las Vegas to start the conference tourney.
It also means that, if victorious against the struggling Rams basketball program, Utah State (15-16, 8-10) would play against Boise State in a quarterfinal.
“You’ve got to go into the tournament, if you can, with a little momentum,” Aggies coach Tim Duryea said. “We did the best we could tonight in terms of helping ourselves take a little bit, some would say, easier path.
“The way Nevada is playing, if you can stay opposite of them as long as you can, you’ve got to try to do that,” Duryea said.
The Aggies’ last two contests were road losses at Air Force and San Jose State.
And, on senior night, Alex Dargenton and Julion Pearre took their places in the starting lineup and the Utah State offense was sharper from the beginning.
“I thought they did a very good job from the perimeter especially. They hit 11 threes and did a really good job of taking care of the ball tonight,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “We tried turning the ball over a little bit, but that didn’t work out for us. They were pretty solid.”
Led by Koby McEwen’s 18 points, Utah State opened a 37-26 lead after buckets from McEwen, Pearre and Dargenton.
The second half went the way of UNLV (19-12, 8-10) initially as the Rebels came out of the locker room with a 16-4 run. The deficit went down to two when UNLV’s Shakur Juiston hit a layup with 14:55 left to make the score 48-46.
That’s when the host Aggies rebounded without McEwen, who had exited the game earlier while attempting to finish off a fast break, and stemmed the tide by scoring nine of the next 11 points.
“I was proud of them. That’s what we didn’t do at Air Force. They made a run and we never stood up,” Duryea said.
In that run, reserve Deangelo Isby scored two baskets to go along with a corner 3-pointer from Dwayne Brown Jr. and a hoop from Diogo Brito.
“I was happy for the seniors, Julion and Alex, happy we got a win — happy they could contribute in a big way,” the Utah State coach said.
“Overall, a team win. Everybody who played scored and we got a lot of contributions from the supporting cast,” Duryea added.
McEwen did eventually return to the game, but his injury was dubbed “worrisome” by the USU coach afterward.
Sam Merrill scored 15 points while Dargenton, who often matched up UNLV’s touted 7-foot freshman Brandon McCoy, finished with 12 points and a team-high five assists.
“There’s two sides to it. On defense, it was pretty tough. It’s hard to rebound against a guy who’s got a couple of inches on you,” said Dargenton of McCoy, who had 18 points. “On offense, I think I’m a little quicker and can get around him and make plays.”