Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
LOGAN — A new home-court winning streak has begun for Utah State.
The Aggies (4-4) snapped their two-game losing streak, which included their first loss at home in nearly two years, with a 63-54 win against in-state rival Utah Valley (5-5) on Tuesday night.
Utah State had stumbled out of the gate to start the season and had earned a moniker not usually used to describe Stew Morrill coached teams — soft.
"They got tired of being called soft. We were playing soft. We just were soft at Pacific and soft at practice," said Morrill. "Nobody likes to hear that. It's not a flattering term in athletics. They responded a little bit and that was good."
The Aggies came out with more energy, were more physical than in recent games and led the contest wire-to-wire. In one of their best all-around efforts in the first half, the Aggies took a 36-27 advantage into the locker room. The physicality and hustle showed as Utah State held Utah Valley to 34 percent shooting and outrebounded the Wolverines 22-16 in the first period.
Sophomore guard Preston Medlin had nine of his game-high 13 points at the break. Junior forward Kyisean Reed added eight of his own in the first half, including an ally-oop slam from Brockeith Pane that nearly brought the house down. Reed finished with 11 points and six rebounds coming off the bench.
"I was pleased how we came out to start the game. We tried really hard and that's something we've been stressing, to play the game with some passion and energy," said Morrill. "We got manhandled at Pacific so it was nice to see us come out and be the aggressors. Everything wasn't close to being perfect, but we needed a win badly for our spirits and for our confidence and we got one. It's something we can build on and try and get better."
Despite never trailing, the lead never felt comfortable in the second half as a 15-point first-half lead dwindled down to just three midway through the second half and was cut to four points with 7:20 left to play.
Down the stretch, the Aggies clamped down on defense and held Utah Valley scoreless for a 31/2-minute span in the final five minutes. On the offensive end, sophomore Danny Berger made some fine individual plays on drives to the basket to help seal the victory.
"That gave us some momentum," Berger said about his layup that put the Aggies up 57-49 with just over four minutes to play. "I just took the open lane when it was there and took it up strong and finished it."
Berger, who spent the last two years serving an LDS Church mission in Detroit, just had his redshirt pulled last week. In only his second game of the season, Berger had 10 points, three assists and three turnovers.
"The reason we brought him off redshirt is what you saw tonight," said Morrill. "He can make shots, he can make plays and he's got a real good feel offensively."
Utah State will have one more game before it takes a break for finals week. The Aggies hit the road with a stiff test at Wichita State to face a Shocker team that beat No. 20 UNLV in their last game.
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