LAS VEGAS – The Aggie basketball season ended Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament. After a back-and-forth battle that included 16 lead changes and five ties Utah State came up short, losing 67-65 to the University of Wyoming. Head coach Stew Morrill said the team won’t pursue any postseason tournament.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Morrill said after the game. “This team was picked 10th. This team, if some of you had seen us during our exhibition games, it was all we could to manage a close win over D-II teams.”
The inexperienced Aggie team started the season with only four players from the previous year’s roster. They finished the regular season 18-13 overall and tied for fourth in the conference.
“The kids got better,” Morrill said. “They’re young. They’ve got a really bright future.”
That future will come without Morrill, who said he doesn’t expect an NIT invite and that he has coached his last game. He said whoever inherits the team will get a “good group of that will just keep getting better.”
Freshman forward David Collette said Morrill has left the tools his team needs to move forward.
“We’re going to miss him but we’re going to take what he’s taught us and we’re going to become better,” he said.
The first half ended in a 26-all tie. After an 8-0 run early in the second half the Aggies had a seven-point lead. The Cowboys retaliated and outscored USU 12-0 over the next four minutes.
“They got layup opportunities driving the basketball and we couldn’t get them stopped during that stretch,” Morrill said. “We also were struggling to score a little bit at the other end but our defense tagged up. We got back in the ball game.”
Moore said Wyoming’s run was “the biggest turning point of the game.”
“We were just giving them layups and on the other end they were stopping us,” he said.
The Aggies continued to battle, but found themselves down 66-59 with 28 seconds left in the game. Missed foul shots by Wyoming and a pair of quick 3-pointers by Darius Perkins and Moore gave the Aggies a two-point deficit. With two seconds left Wyoming’s Charles Hankerson Jr. was at the free throw line. Hankerson missed both free throws and Moore rebounded the ball with one last chance to win the game. His potential buzzer-beating, game-winning shot from behind the half court line sailed over the backboard.
“I tried to take a couple dribbles to get a better look,” Moore said. “I let go. It was on target. It was just too far.”
Moore led USU with 17 points. Collette added 11. Wyoming’s Josh Adams played 39 minutes of the game and led the Cowboys with 19 points.
“They ran a lot of plays for him,” Moore said of Adams. “He made some tough shots.”
The Cowboys will move on to play Boise State in the semifinals. Wyoming Head Coach Larry Shyatt said he wishes Morrill the best.
“There’s an old expression ‘You don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore,’” Shyatt said of Morrill. “We’re losing a great one. Not a great coach, a great coach and a great man.”