<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Addition by subtraction is a common term and it is often used in sports references. Having lost senior Kyisean Reed for the remainder of the season and junior Preston Medlin for at least six weeks, the USU men’s basketball team may be discovering firsthand what that means.
After some initial bumps that are to be expected with a huge personnel change in the middle of a season, the Aggies nearly upset the top team in the conference and then picked up a road sweep. There are multiple reasons for USU’s recent upswing, but one of the biggest is their improvement on defense.
During the Aggies’ hot 14-1 start to the season, Utah State was simply outshooting opponents as defense was more of an afterthought. Now that a big part of their offense is simply gone, the Aggies seem to have rediscovered defense, as they held their last three opponents to 38.3 percent shooting from the field and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers could be much lower as well, considering the fact that Idaho had a terrific shooting night in its loss to the Aggies, hitting 53 percent of its shot attempts from the field and from 3-point land.
Another reason for USU’s resurgent attitude is the play of role players and even the Aggies’ miniscule bench stepping up. After being replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Marcel Davis, JUCO transfer TeNale Roland has been a nonfactor for most of the season. His shot has been downright awful, and his most impressive stat has probably been the number of offensive charges he has picked up. However, he has been a solid contributor during the past couple of games. He knocked down two big 3’s in USU’s win at Idaho, and then reached double figures in the win over Seattle.
Speaking of Davis, he seems to have broken through his slump and is again playing with the joy and ability we saw earlier in the season when he was garnering so much praise. He is coming off back-to-back double digit scoring performances, but even more importantly, he has a cut back on the turnovers. In fact, the entire team has really cut down on its turnover rate for the most part.
Other players have stepped up as well. Marvin Jean isn’t quite lighting it up like he’s shown the ability to, but his defense has been stellar. His first half at Seattle was simply amazing as he recorded four steals and a block, as well as knocking down a big 3-pointer right before the half. As expected, Ben Clifford makes up for his lack of size and athleticism with pure hustle, and Jordan Stone is a great screener, solid defender – just look at how much trouble he gives Idaho’s consensus first-team center, Kyle Barone – and has shown a surprising ability to finish around the basket with a soft left hand.
Even Matt Lopez showed signs of looking like a basketball player during the Seattle game. He recorded five rebounds in six minutes of action, and even scored on an offensive putback. The entire roster has stepped up, and that is what had to happen for USU to compete the remainder of the season.
That brings me to my final point, and that is that no one on the USU roster may have stepped up more than junior center Jarred Shaw.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined the KVNU call-in show following the UT Arlington game. I said that Shaw had to play like the Preseason WAC Newcomer of the Year that he was picked to be if the Aggies wanted to compete with their shorthanded roster. He had shown flashes in the Aggies’ earlier games, but had more or less faded to the background in conference play. Against the Mavericks – a 74-68 home loss – Shaw finished with nine points on a dismal 3-of-13 shooting, and an even more ridiculous three rebounds, before fouling out.
Shaw has certainly responded since that game. Not only is he putting up numbers worthy of garnering him WAC Newcomer of the Year honors, but he is putting up numbers worthy of Player of the Year consideration. Over the past three games, Shaw is shooting an incredible 69 percent (29-42) from the floor, while averaging 21.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Not to be left out, is the inspired play of JUCO transfer Spencer Butterfield. The 6-foot 3-inch guard has a relentless motor, and has posted four consecutive double-doubles. With Shaw and Butterfield playing at such a high level, and the rest of the team stepping up, the Aggies may not be done making noise in their final season in the WAC just yet.