Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LOGAN — While it's very early in the season, it didn't take the BYU Cougars very long to realize they don't have the nation's leading scorer anymore.
Yes, the Cougars could have used Jimmer Fredette Friday night at the Spectrum.
Without him, BYU fell to Utah State, 69-62, before a sellout crowd of 10,270 in the season opener for both teams.
When the Cougars needed to score, particularly at crucial moments, they looked lost at times. When the Aggies needed to score, they turned to senior guard Brockeith Pane, who poured in a game-high 21 points. Pane scored 17 of those points in the second half.
"Last year, everybody in the gym knew where it was going to go with Jimmer," said senior Noah Hartsock, who scored a team-high 18 points. "This year, we're just trying to figure it out."
In a physical, back-and-forth battle that saw the score tied 10 times and nine lead changes, BYU was up, 42-38, with 11 minutes remaining. Then the Cougars went five minutes without scoring as USU enjoyed an 11-0 run to seize a 49-42 advantage that the Aggies didn't relinquish.
"We got stuck on 42 (points)," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We missed a couple of shots and we kind of panicked a little bit. We took some shots out of character. We stayed on 42 a little too long."
"Offensively, we couldn't get anything. We were just out of sync," Hartsock said of that scoring drought. "Credit to them. They played good defense. We were in that rut and that's dangerous for any team, if we can't score for a period of time. They started going on a run and got energy from their crowd and they started getting offensive rebounds. I think that run really helped them."
The Aggies went ahead by as many as 11, at 58-47, with 2:30 remaining after a spurt that saw Pane and guard Preston Medlin do most of the damage. Pane (8) and Medlin (10) combined to score 18 points during that stretch.
"He's a good player," said BYU's Charles Abouo of Pane. "We knew that coming in. He definitely made a difference for them down the stretch."
One of Rose's chief concerns is his team's suspect ball-handling and excessive turnovers.
"We turned the ball over 20 times. That's something we need to get better at," he said. "A lot of it was we were careless with the ball. We have a lot of guys playing in new positions and we need to get them to feel comfortable, especially in a setting like this. It's difficult."
As always, USU's crowd was raucous.
"It's a great place to play. This environment is amazing," Hartsock said. "It's one of the best places to play in America, I think. It's one of those things that you're glad to have it as a team, but you hate playing against it."
The Aggies have now won 32 consecutive home games and coach Stew Morrill has posted a 26-1 record at home against in-state opponents. That one loss came at the hands of BYU, in January, 2000.
"It's proven by their record that it's a tough place to come in and win," Rose said. "I thought our guys battled really hard. We got ourselves in position to win the game in the second half and it kind of got away from us. They're good. They're a very well-coached team."
USU's student section derided Cougar junior Brandon Davies, who was playing in his first official game since being suspended for an honor code violation toward the end of last season. Davies picked up two fouls early in the contest and went scoreless in the first half. He ended up with 13 points.
"It's a college atmosphere and they can cheer whatever they want," Hartsock said of the chants aimed at Davies. "That's just one of the factors we have to deal with as players. It was tough to hear, but he's very tough-minded."
All in all, it was a typical BYU-USU game.
"That was wild and crazy like they always are," Morrill said. "These games are a special thing in the Spectrum."
"It was a hard-fought game for both teams," Abouo said. "When it came down to it, they made more plays than we did. They had a real good stretch where they got some offensive rebounds. That helped them get going. They made a run and we couldn't quite make up for that."
The Cougars will look for their first win of the season Tuesday at home against BYU-Hawaii. But they won't soon forget losing to the Aggies.
"It's hard to lose this game because you prepare for the first game of the season and you want to start on a roll," Abouo said. "It's an in-state opponent, which makes it a very fun game to play. More importantly, it's a chance for your team to start off with a win. We came up short, unfortunately."
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