Utah State basketball: Aggies outjumped, outblocked in home loss to UNLV
John Zsiray, Associated Press
LOGAN — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday, a group of fans chanted Utah State's "winning team, losing team" chant.
Only it wasn't Aggie fans doing the chanting.
Instead, the chant was performed by a small group of UNLV fans.
Backed by junior forward Khem Birch's career-high nine blocks, UNLV's athleticism proved too much for the Aggies in a 73-62 Rebel win.
"In my opinion, they're the most athletic team in the conference," said USU center Jarred Shaw. "I don't know how many blocks Khem Birch had, but he affected the game. The way they was blocking shots and rebounding, I just give credit to him and his team for winning."
Birch was all UNLV had in the first 10 minutes, scoring the first six Rebel points — including a slam dunk to start things off at 2-0 — and blocking five shots in the first half alone.
"I don't think anyone was scared," Birch said after the game. "Usually on the road we're kind of timid, but not this time."
Utah State led by as many as five points in the first half. Backup center Jordan Stone gave the Aggies some spark when he stole the ball and found senior guard Preston Medlin for the transition dunk to make it 21-20 with 7:06 left in the half.
Utah State lead 31-29 at halftime.
Aggie coach Stew Morrill said UNLV's shooting ability and athleticism in the second frame was the reason the Rebels pulled away.
"The start of the second half was key," he said. "They kind of boat-raced us and we didn't respond very well."
After going 1 of 4 in the first half, UNLV senior guard and Las Vegas native Kevin Olekaibe hit 3 of 4 3-point baskets in the final period. His back-to-back bombs gave the Rebels a three-point lead with 17 minutes to go.
Olekaibe ended with a game-high 21 points. UNLV held USU to 33 percent shooting from the field.
"I didn't think we didn't play hard," Morrill said. "I didn't feel that way at at all. We just didn't play very well, and they're the reason we didn't play very well. I mean, they controlled everything."
Utah State had 21 offensive rebounds in the game, compared to UNLV's six.
Shaw led the way for the Aggies with three assists and a steal to go along with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
"Shaw killed us both games," Birch said.
It was only the second time the Aggies have lost this season after leading at halftime.
"Their athleticism was the difference," Morrill said. "From start to finish, their athleticism gave us problems."
The Aggies next play at San Diego State at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
Tavin Stucki is a senior journalism student at Utah State University and editor-in-chief of The Utah Statesman, the Aggie campus newspaper. Twitter: @DesNewsAggies @StuckiAggies
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