LOGAN – Utah State was pegged as the underdog going into Saturday night’s matchup. Boise State had just two conference losses all season and was riding a four-game win streak into Logan.
Utah State trailed for the majority of the game and never led by more than six points, but was able to upset the visiting Broncos 71-65. The victory came behind 23 points and five assists from Koby McEwen and a team defensive effort that produced 10 steals.
“We fought hard all 40 minutes,” McEwen said. “We didn’t have a doubt that we were going to win this game. I’m proud of our guys.”
The Broncos (20-5, 10-3) were within three points twice in the final minutes, but USU (14-12, 7-6) was able to make plays when needed by breaking Boise State’s full court pressure and making key free throws.
There have been a handful of close games in the series’ recent history, including the four-point USU loss in Boise less than a month ago. Aggie head coach Tim Duryea said he knew going into the game that being able to finish strong would be crucial.
“We’ve been in this situation a lot with these guys where with three or four minutes to go its anybody’s game,” he said. “We haven’t done a good job finishing. Tonight we did.”
Bronco guard Chandler Hutchison, a strong contender for the conference’s player of the year award, scored 28 points while his teammates Chris Sengfelder and Lexus Williams scored 12 each. The difference in the game, according to Duryea, was that the other Boise State players weren’t able to produce. No other player from the visiting team scored more than four.
“I thought the key was shutting the secondary scorers down,” Duryea said. “We did a good job doubling them in the post and held our own getting key rebounds when we needed them to.”
For Utah State, Diogo Brito scored 16 points, Sam Merrill scored 12 and Dwayne Browne Jr. added 10. Brown also had a team-leading six rebounds.
An 8-0 Bronco run put USU down 12-4 early, but McEwen responded with his first of four first-half 3-pointers. Boise State held a lead through the rest of the first half, but the Aggies were able to trim the deficit to just two points twice in the final 10 minutes.
“At halftime I think (McEwen) had more than half our points,” Duryea said of McEwen. “From the 3-point line he was keeping us in there.”
Merrill had a chance at a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute before the half, but missed. After a Bronco trey on the other end, a steal and a buzzer-beating layup, Boise State went into the half leading 34-27.
“In the first half we had our ups and downs because of turnovers and a lot of offensive rebounds from their two bigs,” Brown said.
The Aggies stayed within striking distance through the first six minutes out of the break, then scored six-straight points to take the first lead of the game. The arena got loud when DeAngelo Isby’s steal led to a lead-taking dunk by McEwen with 12 minutes remaining.
“Once you make those plays and the crowd gets into it, the stadium gets loud and its hard for the other team to rally up and come back,” McEwen said.
A steal by Brown and layup by Merrill put USU up 49-45, but an offensive lull started soon after. The Aggies scored just two points during the next 5:40, allowing Boise State to take a 52-51 lead, but USU’s sophomore guards got their team back on top. Merrill hit a 3-pointer to retake the lead, which was extended by a McEwen jumper on the next possession.
That wasn’t the last time the sophomore guard combo would strike. With the game still on the line, Merrill made another 3-pointer with 2:08 left. After a pair of free throws by Hutchison, McEwen hit his fifth trey of the game to put the Aggies up six with 1:08 left.
“Those were the shots of the game, those two shots right there,” Duryea said. “…Those are the kind of shots those two kids hit and have hit for us the last couple of years.”
The Broncos used a full court press and quick Hutchison baskets to stay in the game, but was never able to cut the Aggie lead to less than three. Utah State was able to beat the press and produce some fast-break points during the final stretch.
“We did a great job executing the press breaker,” Duryea said. “Maybe its just that we’ve been in that situation a couple of times.”
Utah State has now won four of its last five games and is tied for sixth place in conference with New Mexico, the team’s next opponent. USU is getting healthier, too. Brown, Quinn Taylor and Alex Dargenton have each been limited in, or have missed recent games. All three played Saturday.