<strong>LOGAN—</strong> In January, New Mexico State ended Utah State’s 13-game winning streak. Saturday, USU returned the favor, snapping NMSU’s 12-game winning streak with a 73-69 win. Utah State never trailed in the game and led by as many as 14 points in the win.
“We’re getting a little better offensively,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “It’s nice to see them rewarded for playing that hard. We’ve played that hard a couple of times and lost close ones. It’s nice to win a fairly close one.”
Jarred Shaw led Utah State with 24 points and eight rebounds while Spencer Butterfield chipped in 17 points and six rebounds. New Mexico State had four players in double figures but was led by Remi Barry’s 15 points.
“I’m glad we got that monkey off our backs,” Shaw said. “We needed that win and we fought for it and got it. It was a big week of preparation for us. We just tried to stay positive the whole week. We worked hard, got our rest, did our thing and it showed tonight.”
Utah State jumped out to a big lead early in the first half, opening up a 19-5 lead behind some hot shooting from Shaw and Butterfield.
“We wanted to be aggressive this time,” Butterfield said. “Last time we came out a little slow and it somewhat carried through the game. This time we wanted to come out fast and come out hard and then continue that throughout the game.”
New Mexico State answered the early USU charge with a 13-2 run of its own, cutting the lead to two with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the first half. The two Aggie squads battled back and forth throughout the next 10 minutes, before freshman guard Marcel Davis hit a 3-pointer to put USU up 40-37 heading into the half.
“When we went down there, they really beat us up,” USU sophomore forward Ben Clifford said. “They just out-physicaled us and got in our heads. Tonight we came with the mindset that they weren’t going to do that. I don’t think we let them.”
Butterfield and Shaw combined to score 25 of USU’s 40 points in the first half. New Mexico State had 17 of their 37 points come from second chance points as Utah State allowed the red Aggies to get 12 offensive boards in the first 20 minutes. A large part of the New Mexico State offensive rebounding prowess was 7-foot 5-inch center Sim Bhullar.
“I just played my game,” Shaw said. “I didn’t worry about anything or anyone else. I just stayed focused and played my game.”
At the beginning of the second half, Utah State extended its lead to eight with 15 minutes to play. That 11-4 run was highlighted by a monstrous dunk by Shaw off of a beautiful no-look pass from Davis.
Utah State kept New Mexico State at bay and led by 11 with four minutes left in the game. In an effort to get back in the game, NMSU implemented a full-court press down the stretch, which caused USU some problems. The Southern Aggies clawed back to within four off of a 3-pointer by Kevin Aronis with 31 seconds left, but that is as close as they would get.
“It got a little scary there at the end when we started to struggle with their press, but it’s really a good win for us,” Morrill said. “Our guys battled hard and I thought deserved to win. We just really competed.”
Jordan Stone was eventually fouled with 16 seconds left and went to the line after making 4-of-4 free throws earlier in the game. He missed the front end of the one-and-one, but New Mexico State was able to generate any more points before the buzzer as USU held on for the win.
Utah State now improves to 9-5 in conference play and is tied with UT Arlington for fourth place in the WAC.
USU, along with the rest of the WAC, will exit conference play for the week and travel to Provo to take on BYU on Tuesday, Feb 19, at 7 p.m.
“This is a huge step for us, it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Shaw said. “We’ll keep getting better. We go down to BYU Tuesday. It’s not a conference game, but we’ll play like it’s a conference game. We’re just trying to get better to be ready to play in March.”