Kita Wright, Associated Press
RUSTON, La. — Utah State coach Stew Morrill is usually demonstrative on the sidelines: arms waving, feet stomping and voice shouting non-stop instructions.
On Thursday night, he spent most of the game seated in his chair. There was no reason to get upset. Louisiana Tech was just too good.
The 25th-ranked Bulldogs — playing in their first game as a nationally ranked team since 1985 — easily handled Utah State 84-61 in a lopsided game that started ugly for the Aggies and got worse.
"Tech played great — the game was over early," Morrill said. "They established the ground rules by just dominating us early and we were never really in the game. It was a thorough butt-kicking. They're playing really well."
The Bulldogs (25-3, 15-0 Western Athletic Conference) never left anything in doubt, taking a 15-2 lead in the opening minutes on the way to a 49-23 halftime advantage. It was a surprisingly lopsided game considering Louisiana Tech barely beat Utah State (19-8, 9-6) 51-48 in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 26.
It's been a difficult season for Utah State, which has lost three returning starters because of injuries. Usually, the Aggies have found a way to stay competitive, but Louisiana Tech's pressure defense and constant scoring proved too difficult to handle.
"On nights we make shots to complement our ability to defend — we're pretty good," Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said. "And that happened tonight at a level that we haven't done all year."
Brandon Gibson scored 20 points and Raheem Appleby added 15 as Louisiana Tech shot 31 of 62 (50 percent) from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from 3-point range. The Bulldogs stretched their winning streak to 17 games.
Jarred Shaw and Ben Clifford both scored 14 points for Utah State. TeNale Roland added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Gibson made 8 of 11 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, to lead a potent Louisiana Tech bench. The Bulldogs' bench outscored the starters 49-35.
"They've got a lot of depth," Morrill said. "They definitely looked like a top 25 team to me."
Louisiana Tech jumped into the Top 25 on Monday for the first time in nearly 28 years. The Bulldogs enjoyed a 13-week run in the national rankings while Malone — the former Utah Jazz star and member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame — was dominating the Southland Conference on the way to a run to the NCAA round of 16 during 1984-85.
Utah State was Louisiana Tech's first Division I opponent in nearly two weeks and the Bulldogs looked fresh, using their full-court press to frustrate the Aggies early. A few turnovers were all the Bulldogs needed to build an early advantage — especially since almost all of their shots were falling.
Louisiana Tech shot 20 of 35 (57.9 percent) in the first half. Gibson led the Bulldogs with 12 points off the bench.
Appleby said the national ranking didn't change his team's focus.
"Going undefeated in conference, we've been the hunted all season," Appleby said. "The target might have become a little bigger, but it didn't change the way we approached our game."
The Aggies have lost two of three.
Louisiana Tech ranks fifth in the nation in turnover margin and forced 15 turnovers Thursday while committing six.
Utah State has managed a decent season despite rampant injuries. The Aggies came into the season with three returning starters — Danny Berger, Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed — but none of them played Thursday because of various medical issues.
"That wasn't anything to do with this game," Morrill said. "We could have had everybody and they still would have dominated. They were alive, active, making shots and making plays. They were driving by us any time they wanted. ... We turned it over a bunch and we just ran out of gas."
The Aggies shot just 20 of 56 (35.7 percent) from the field, including 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
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