Utah Utes, Utah State basketball: Timely tip-in helps USU edge Utah in controversial finish
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LOGAN Utah State's Spectrum has long had a reputation of making it nearly impossible for a visiting team to win.
The rabid Aggie fans and students are seen as a sixth man. If the Utah Runnin' Utes were asked, however, they might say it was the seventh man as in the official operating the game clock who willed USU to a 66-64 win.
Tai Wesley scored the winning basket on an offensive rebound putback off a Tyler Newbold missed shot with one-tenth of a second left, giving Utah State a 9-1 record and a gut-wrenching win over the Utes, who had good reason to cry foul after the game clock never started during the critical play.
"Time wise, I knew his shot had to be good, but I guess it was closer than I thought with less than a second left. With a a little Spectrum magic, we got out of here with a win," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "We'll take it."
The magic, in reality, might not have been needed. After Utah coach Jim Boylen flew into a rage on the sideline protesting the clock situation and tossing things around on the scorer's table, the referees huddled around a replay monitor across the court with a stopwatch and hand timed the play at least three times. Each time, the replay and the stopwatch showed Wesley's tip-in from the left side left his hands with a tenth of a second to play.
Head official Randy McCall said it is a joint responsibility of the scoreboard operator and one official to start the clock. Official Eric Curry claimed he started it on his belt, but it didn't work.
"It didn't start for some reason," said McCall. "Sometimes there's malfunctions. So we went to the monitor with the stopwatch. We timed from the moment he touched it inbounds to the time it went through the net. We got 2.3 all three times. I couldn't have done that if I tried."
Wesley said he got a little lucky to be in the right spot at the right time when he scored the winning points.
"I thought without a doubt that it was going to count," he said. "I was able to get the shot and I put it down."
The key, he said, was not just watching the play unfold.
"I was just going to crash the boards," Wesley said, after his defender, Shaun Green, left him to help contest the shot off the inbounds play. "When they said it counted it made me feel so good when they said it counted."
The basket gave Wesley a team-high 18 points and thwarted what had been a nearly successful comeback rally from the Utes.
Tied at 64-64 with 17 seconds left to play after a Carlon Brown layup for Utah, the Aggies set up a play for Jared Quayle to try and win the game. His 20-footer was off the mark, but Utah's Luke Nevill tipped the rebound out of bounds with 2.4 seconds to play.
That set up the crazy sequence that sent the Aggie fans home elated and the Utes back to Salt Lake City wondering what might have been.
When asked if he was happy with the way the officials resolved the last sequence, Boylen, carefully choosing his words, said, "No comment," then added, "They have to do their job. I thought they did it to the best of their ability. I like those three officials. I thought it was a very well-officiated game, very well."
Utah State never trailed in the game and led by as many as 11 points, but could never put the Runnin' Utes away.
Nevill caused all sorts of problems for USU's shooting percentage. After coming into the game with a nation-best 53 percent average, the Aggies were held to just 41 percent Monday night and were outrebounded for the first time this season.
Leading 28-22 at the half thanks in part to eight points from center Gary Wilkinson, Utah State came out trying to establish the other side of its post game. Wesley was fed the ball time and time again and quickly helped USU take control with an 11-point lead with 16:17 to play.
"We felt that Tai could work Green really well down in the post," Quayle said. "So we kept getting him the ball."
But Utah (6-5) had the answer as Nevill kept putting up jump hook after jump hook and Utah tied the game at 59-59 when Nevill, who finished with game highs of 25 points and 11 rebounds, threw down an uncontested dunk while Wilkinson was rolling on the floor at the other end of the court after being hit in the head on a layup attempt.
From that point, Utah State never led by more than three points and Utah was always a shot away from either tying the game or taking the lead.
In addition to Nevill's 25, the Utes got a dozen points from Tyler Kepkay and 11 from Brown. USU's Quayle added 16 points, six rebounds and six assists while Wilkinson had 14 points.
Utah, which will take much of the week off for the holiday, will be back in action at home on Saturday against UC Irvine. The Aggies will not play again until Monday, when they host the Gossner Foods Duel in the Desert, with Howard, Houston Baptist and Wyoming coming to Logan for games on back-to-back-to-back nights.
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