LOGAN — The uncharacteristic mediocrity of this year’s Utah State basketball team continued on Saturday afternoon as the Aggies (13-13, 5-6) fell back to the .500 mark with a loss at home to New Mexico State (18-8, 7-3), 80-69. The loss was Utah State’s third of the year in the Spectrum and is the first time since the 1995-1996 season that the Aggies have fallen at least three times at home.
“I think it’s pretty obvious, we are good enough to play a lot of close games, but we aren’t good enough to win them,” said head coach Stew Morrill. “That’s what you saw tonight. It’s been something that happened to us a lot.”
Utah State was briefly able dig out of an 11-point deficit to take the lead in the second half at 66-65 but held onto the lead for just 26 seconds. Utah State was outscored 14-3 over the game’s final six minutes.
The final few minutes were a comedy of errors for Utah State. In the decisive six minutes the Aggies turned the ball over four times and missed all four field-goal attempts. Between amped up New Mexico State pressure and unforced errors Utah State was unable to even muster a shot attempt after the 2:39 mark when Preston Medlin’s 3-point attempt was blocked by NMSU guard Hernst Laroche.
“They made the plays that they needed to make, and we couldn’t even run our offense,” Morrill said. “It was disappointing.”
Also working against Utah State was some atrocious free-throw shooting. The Aggies made only seven of their 13 attempts from the charity stripe.
“We just didn’t do what it takes,” said guard Danny Berger. “We didn’t take care of the ball, we didn’t execute our offense and we didn’t rebound on the other end. That’s what happens when you don’t do those things.”
Berger had his best game in his first season in Logan with a career-high 14 points, including 10 of the Aggies' first 14 to start the game.
“I just wasn’t trying to force the issue in the second half,” Berger said. “I had it going in the beginning and then was just trying get my teammates involved.”
USU was unable to finish either half strong. After breaking through with a 14-0 run in the middle of the first half to lead 31-23, the Aggies stumbled. New Mexico State answered that run with a 15-2 run of their own to end the half and take a 38-33 edge into the locker room.
The run continued on the other side of halftime when New Mexico State scored the first four points of the half.
“They made a run and it was tough coming out after the half," Berger added. “That hurt us too.”
Wendell McKines did most of the damage for New Mexico State with 20 points and nine rebounds. Utah State once again struggled on the glass, giving up 11 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded by 13 overall. Morgan Grim and Kyisean Reed tied for the USU lead in rebounding with just four each.
The Aggies' five-game homestand continues on Tuesday with a game against non-D1 Montana Tech as a warm-up before taking on UC Santa Barbra in an ESPN Bracketbuster matchup on Saturday night.
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be reached at DesNewsKraig@gmail.com or followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.