LOGAN – Despite an 11-1 run by Montana State near the end of Monday night’s game, Utah State was able to hold on for its first victory of the season, an 81-73 win over the visiting Bobcats. Sophomore guard Koby McEwen led all scorers with 20 points while junior DeAngelo Isby added 18.
“You like to see improvement in your team from the first game to the second game,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “We obviously improved in a lot of areas.”
Because of early foul trouble, senior forward Alex Dargenton’s 11-point, 11-rebound double-double came in just 16 minutes of playing time.
“He and Dwayne Brown were climbing on the boards there for a while,” Duryea said.
Montana State had four players score in double figures. Harald Frey and Tyler Hall each scored 15, Joe Mvuezolo score 12 and former Aggie Konner Frey added 10. The Aggies shot 56 percent from the field, an improvement from the 37 percent in the loss at Weber State Friday night.
“I thought it was a much better pace that we played with offensively, this game over Weber,” McEwen said. “I thought we pushed the ball more.”
USU finished with a 41-28 advantage on the boards.
“Tonight we played a team that was quite small, a little bit like us,” Dargenton said. “So rebounding was even more of a focus for us, to outrebound them,”
Montana State made two 3-pointers to start the game, but the six-point lead was biggest the Bobcats would get. USU didn’t get on the scoreboard until Dargenton put in a layup more than two minutes in, and didn’t get its first lead until a Sam Merrill 3-pointer almost five minutes in.
That was the first of eight first-half lead changes. USU built a five-point lead, but the Bobcats finished the last 2:23 on an 8-2 run to take a 41-40 halftime lead.
“They were phenomenal in the first half,” Duryea said of Montana State. “We were shooting 64 percent at halftime and were down one, and we were competing defensively. We were doing a lot of things right and they were scoring in spite of that.”
Montana State led for the first 26 seconds of the second half, but never again. Isby made a 3-pointer in the first possession of the second half to retake the lead, then added his second three soon after. Then, just minutes later, USU extended its lead to 54-45 on back-to-back threes from McEwen and Isby.
Isby scored all 18 of his points in the first half. McEwen said he spoke some words of encouragement to Isby during the break.
“I told him, ‘You’re thinking too much. Just play your game and be you and clear your mind,’” McEwen said. “I told him, ‘If you don’t clear your mind right now, you’re going to play bad again in the second half.’”
Duryea said it was great to see Isby “bounce back mentally.”
“We went to him a lot there early (in the second half),” he said. “And he produced.”
USU extended its lead to 16, but allowed Montana State to get within five in the final minute.
“I thought we could finish the game a lot cleaner than we did” Duryea said. “That’s a good learning experience when you can win … that is something we’ve got to learn from.”
The Aggies will stay at home to take on Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. MVSU is 0-2 after losing to BYU and Utah in its first two games this year.