Utah State came out on top of a hard-fought game Saturday night in the Spectrum, as they scratched and clawed their way to a victory over Weber State by a score of 77-65. The win marked the 11th straight year that the Aggies have opened the regular season with a victory at home. “We knew it was going to be a challenge,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said following the game. “… We will take it. There were a lot of things we didn’t like. We fought hard and we got a win.” While the Aggies might have been expecting a good game from the Wildcats, they could not have been expecting to allow Weber State to get into a rhythm offensively in the first half. The Wildcats shot an even 50% from the field to take a 36-29 lead into the intermission. They also made 75% of their shots from behind the arc in the first half, going 6-8 from down-town. However, the Aggies were able to make some adjustments at halftime, and they came out of the break with a vengeance. “They (Weber State) were playing great. I give them all the credit in the world,” Morrill said. “We were up against it at halftime. We came out and played much better and obviously much more aggressive in the second half.” One of the adjustments made by Utah State was to change their defensive strategies on Damian Lillard. The Wildcat point guard, who had multiple NBA scouts watching him from the sidelines, was pretty hot in the first half. He went into halftime with a game-high nine points of 3-3 shooting from three-point land. However, USU senior guard Tyler Newbold took responsibility of defending Lillard in the second half, and was able to slow him down. Lillard still ended up with a game-high 28 points, but it came on 9-17 shooting. Lillard was also forced into four turnovers. Coach Morrill was pleased with the job that Newbold did in defending Lillard. “Tyler is a good defender, and one thing you know is that he (Newbold) is going to try like crazy,” said Morrill. “I thought he did a solid job out there.” Utah State was able to get back into a flow offensively in the second half, after being frustrated by the defense provided by the Wildcats to start the game. Much of this re-invigoration was due to the play of point guard Brockeith Pane, who scored a team-high 23 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Pane’s 23 points were the most by an Aggie in their first game since Jay Goodman put up 33 against BYU on November 24th, 1990. The way in which he amassed his point total was also impressive. Pane was able to get to the basket off of the dribble almost at will, and he did a great job of finishing his plays. The junior out of Dallas, Texas had two three-point plays in the second half, with buckets on fouls followed by free throw conversions. Pane was also great from the charity-stripe, going 11-13. “Coach Morrill just asked us to pick it up at halftime, so I really tried to pick it up,” Pane said. “… In the second half, I just tried to be aggressive and help the team win. I was just trying to make plays for others, while I was struggling on the offensive end. There were some really good ball screens that allowed me to get into the paint and penetrate.” Team leader Tai Wesley was very pleased with the play of Pane at the point guard position. “The kid can get to the rim and finish,” said Wesley. “I don’t know how many and-one’s he had tonight, but the kid can get to the rim and finish. I really like playing with him.” Wesley had a good game himself, coming up just one rebound short of a double-double to go along with his 19 points in 28 minutes of playing time. Wesley had to battle through some calls that went against his favor, as he was assessed two quick fouls at the start of the game. Being in foul trouble limited his time on the playing court, and the senior forward knew that he had to make the most out of the minutes he was given. “I guess I gotta clean up my screening,” Wesley said. “That is the way the game went. It was tough to get into a rhythm when I picked up two quick (fouls) and had to sit down a little bit. I think that kind of got me hungry for the second half, for being out there and scoring more.” It was a coaching-reunion of sorts, as Weber State head coach Randy Rahe made a return to the Spectrum, where he spent eight years coaching as an assistant under Morrill. Rahe was impressed with the job the atmosphere that the Aggie fans created. “It’s tough,” Rahe said when asked about how it feels to return to the Spectrum. “I used to be on the other bench thinking to myself how tough it would be to play here as an opponent; now I am the opponent. The Spectrum has very dedicated fans; this could be the best and loudest arena in the country.” Utah State will now focus on another in-state rival, as they will travel to Provo on Wednesday to match-up with a top 25 ranked BYU team. Tip-off is slated for 7 PM at the Marriott Events Center.
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