LOGAN — Prior to his team's big non-conference game against Saint Mary's on Thursday night, Utah State head coach Stew Morrill challenged his players to be physical. The Aggies responded and brought the physicality, but they left their shooting touch at home.
The Aggies (1-1) collected 49 rebounds, including 24 on the offensive glass, and only turned the ball over 10 times, but shot a measly 32 percent from the field in a 67-58 loss to the Gaels (2-0) in the Spectrum.
“I don’t think we could have thrown the ball in the ocean tonight standing on the beach in the sand,” senior forward Kyisean Reed said.
Reed and frontcourt mate Jarred Shaw were two of the lone bright spots for Utah State. Both responded well after an ugly opening-night win against Idaho State. The duo dominated play in the paint, as Reed finished with 16 points and eight rebounds while Shaw collected a double-double in his second game as an Aggie with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
“We did it on the boards. We just didn’t shoot the ball well from anywhere really,” Reed added. “We keep rebounding like that, we keep playing hard like that we’ll be OK.”
The Gaels came out of the gates firing, shooting a scorching 67 percent from the field and from behind the arc in the first half to jump out to a 34-31 lead. Former Aggie James Walker III scored 12 of his 14 points before the half. Walker’s backcourt teammate, Matthew Dellavedova, added 12 points of his own at the break to help pace the Gaels.
The Aggies tightened up on defense in the second half, holding the Gaels to just 28-percent shooting, but the USU offense seemingly never made it to the arena. Utah State was able to cut the deficit to just three with five minutes remaining, but Dellavedova, who plays for the Australian national team, scored the Gaels' next seven points to put the game out of the Aggies' reach.
“They have an NBA player at the point guard. He’s something special,” Morrill said of Dellavedova. “He did a great job controlling the game.”
Dellavedova led all scorers with 21 points, but even as efficient as he was on the offensive end, his defensive impact was arguably even better. Along with the rest of his teammates, Dellavedova swarmed Aggie star guard Preston Medlin, holding Medlin to just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. It was only the second time in the last 22 outings that Medlin has been held to single digits in scoring; both games were losses for the Aggies.
“They did a great job on Preston (Medlin) and we had a hard time shooting the ball. You have to give them credit,” Morrill said.
Despite suffering the loss in the normally impenetrable Spectrum, the mood with the Aggies was fairly upbeat afterward. The general consensus was the shooting has to improve but the effort was good enough to beat most teams on most nights — just not this one.
“We played really, really hard. They have nothing to feel bad about in terms of effort,” Morrill said. “ I think we are going to have a good basketball team, I really do. I’m not doom-and-gloom about that game and I don’t want our kids to be.”
Utah State won’t have a lot of time to sulk following the loss. The Aggies will be back in action at home Saturday night against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.