Eli Lucero, AP
Utah State guard Preston Medlin (13) dribbles the ball as Fresno State guard Marvelle Harris (23) defends during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
LOGAN — Utah State battled back from a 16-point deficit in the first half, but couldn't overcome Fresno State's offensive onslaught as the Aggies fell 79-76 on Saturday.
Ultimately, the Aggies made a game of it in the final minutes. Senior guard Spencer Butterfield forced a turnover off a Fresno State inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs' lead to three, but Fresno State held on for the final 18 seconds to escape with the win.
"We played good enough offense, other than not shooting it very well from 3, to win the basketball game," Aggie coach Stew Morrill said.
Earlier, Utah State point guard TeNale Roland gave the Aggies a one-point lead with a layup in the lane with 15:11 to go.
The teams traded baskets for the rest of the game, but Fresno's extra points from range proved to be the difference. The Bulldogs shot 48 percent from 3-point land.
"We've got to find some way to get better on defense," Aggie center Jarred Shaw said. "Our one-on-one defense wasn't there tonight. I think they just outscrapped us."
Utah State shot 50 percent from the field, but only hit 6 of 21 shots from beyond the arc.
Morrill said his team's inability to play defense was key in the loss.
"They had a great night shooting the basketball and we couldn't do much to get them stopped," Morrill said. "We just couldn't guard them, or wouldn't guard them, whatever. They just went around us. When we tried to play zone, they'd shoot a 3. Our defense was lacking."
Fresno's Tyler Johnson had a double-double with 10 rebounds and 21 points, including 12 from the 3-point line.
"Johnson showed obviously he's a first-team All-Mountain West player," Morrill said. "He had a great game and he's having a great year."
Freshman forward Paul Watson had eight of his 20 points in the final eight minutes to help keep Utah State from taking a comeback victory.
"Defensively, we're a mess right now," said USU's Kyle Davis, who had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Utah State didn't score for nearly three minutes in the first half, letting Fresno build a 16-point lead.
"I just feel like we started out too slow," Roland said.
Shaw led Utah State with 18 points and seven rebounds, as well as three blocks.
The Aggies have now lost three in a row and eight of their last 11.
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"I don't know, man. I don't know what it is," Shaw said. "We've just got to come out with some aggression."
Utah State will next face New Mexico at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the road.
"We're not the most confident group right now," Morrill said. "We have to decide whether we want to just play it out or whether we want to play to win. That's where we're at with three games left."
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