Logan • Slow starts have happened more than a couple of times for Utah State this season, but maybe coach Tim Duryea knew something good was going to happen for the conference opener against San Jose State on Wednesday night.
And something positive indeed did occur as the Aggies beat the Spartans 86-72 in Logan.
Duryea said his team gathered Christmas Eve for a practice and it wasn’t just a run-through-the-paces kind of event.
“We had a couple of spirited practices over the holidays, which you don’t always get, and I think that carried over to tonight,” Duryea said.
The usual guys were at the top of the scoresheet at game’s end for Utah State.
Sophomore Koby McEwen scored 24 points and fellow sophomore guard Sam Merrill added 18.
But junior forward Dwayne Brown Jr. and swing player Diogo Brito were just as instrumental in the first half as the Aggies built a 19-point lead 15 minutes into the contest.
Brito had five steals and dished out six assists and was a spark in several instances in the early going.
“We had a job at stopping number 32 (Ryan Welage) and they were trying to give him the ball. I was trying to not let him grab it,” said Brito, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Portugal, who scored 11 points.
“Whenever they drove, I was just trying to read their eyes,” Brito added. “With the prep we had before the game, I knew where those opportunities were going to come.”
Brown meanwhile had 16 points and he started the festivities with a 3-pointer to begin the game.
“He stroked that first 3 and I think that gave him confidence. We’re undersized and he was battling down there,” Duryea said. “He made some good plays for people too and I see his growth every game.”
Welage finished with 22 points for the Spartans while the visitors also got 18 points from reserve Jaycee Hillsman.
But San Jose was never able to to recover from the early deficit, although an 8-0 run near the end of the first half made the score 37-28.
Alex Dargenton, though, drove into the lane for a layup for Utah State with 1:54 on the clock to stop the run. Then Brito made a steal and fed Brown for a basket and Brito himself scored on an assist from McEwen just before intermission for a 44-28 lead.
“I thought our three starting perimeter players did an outstanding job of passing the ball,” Duryea said.
McEwen, Merrill and others demonstrated good ball movement that resulted in a clean 3-point attempt — and make — by McEwen four minutes into the second half that gave Utah State (8-6, 1-0) a 57-35 advantage. The closest San Jose State (3-9, 0-1) would come after that was a 12-point margin in the last minute of the contest.
Duryea said afterword that Merrill was still dealing with a wrist injury, and McEwen said he still physically wasn’t at a hundred percent after being sick.
But McEwen this time wan’t bothered by an early-season bugaboo and stayed out of foul trouble.
In fact, the standout guard didn’t commit one in the victory.
“I’m done fouling,” McEwen said.
Storylines<br>• Utah State begins Mountain West play by jumping to a 35-16 lead in the first half as Koby McEwen scores 24 points and Sam Merrill adds 18.<br>• The Aggies also got 16 points form Dwayne Brown Jr. while sophomore Diogo Brito scored 11 and made five steals on the night.<br>• San Jose State is paced by 22 points from Ryan Welage while reserve Jaycee Hillsman adds 18.