LOGAN — After finding itself in a miniature slump to begin the month of December, the Utah State basketball team is close to firing on all cylinders again. The Aggies easily pounded the visiting Western Illinois Leathernecks 68-52 on the first night of the Basketball Travelers Inc. Classic Thursday.
Head coach Stew Morrill was worried about how his team would play offensively without center Jarred Shaw, who has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The Aggies responded with one their best shooting nights of the season, hitting 52.8 percent from the floor against a Western Illinois team that was allowing teams to shoot only 39.7 percent against them. USU never trailed and led by as many as 19 in the second half.
“I was pleased with how hard our players came out,” Morrill said on his postgame radio show on 610 KVNU. “I thought we played as hard from start to finish as we had all year. I thought the effort was good.”
Jordan Stone got the start at center in place of Shaw and finished with four points, four rebounds and some good defense while fighting early foul trouble. Kyle Davis picked up some of the scoring slack down low, ending with a team-high 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“I thought Kyle played really well,” Morrill said on his postgame radio show. “He gives us an inside scoring threat with Jarred out and is a good rebounder.”
Spencer Butterfield and Preston Medlin both shot well and chipped in 14 points each. Butterfield added six rebounds and four assists. All 12 players available for USU checked in. Ten players scored, including senior forward Sean Harris, who scored his first point as an Aggie on a second-half free throw.
Only some uncharacteristically sloppy ballhandling kept the game from becoming a complete laugher. USU turned the ball over a season-high 19 times.
“Other than turnovers you can’t find many bad stats in the game,” Morrill said on his radio show.
While picking up the offensive slack was a concern, Butterfield said the team had been working almost nonstop on its defensive effort in practice. It showed as only one Western Illinois player scored in double figures. The Leathernecks were led by Jordan Foster with 10 points.
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As a team Western Illinois shot just 39.6 percent, including a frigid 3-of-15 performance from 3-point range. Utah State also added nine blocked shots, a season-high.
In the early game of the night, UC Santa Barbara defeated Troy 57-54 on the strength of a Kyle Boswell 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining to break a 54-all tie.
Utah State will face UC Santa Barbara Friday night at 8 p.m. while Troy will face Western Illinois at 5:30. The Aggies and Gauchos have already met once this season, with USU taking a 71-64 victory in Santa Barbara.