LOGAN — The Utah State Aggies may be undermanned for the rest of the season, but don’t expect them to quit fighting. Against WAC-leading Louisiana Tech on Saturday, the Aggies erased a 13-point halftime deficit before coming up just short in a 51-48 defeat.
The loss was USU’s fourth in a row and marks the first time under head coach Stew Morrill that the Aggies have dropped four consecutive games. The last time that happened was in 1994.
Morrill was critical of some players' effort Thursday night in a loss to UT Arlington, but could find no fault in the energy level from his squad against the Bulldogs.
“I have no problem with our effort,” Morrill said. “We played really, really hard. Louisiana Tech just seems to find a way to win close games like this.”
Trailing 35-22 at the half, Utah State came out of the locker room with a renewed effort on the defensive end. Louisiana Tech scored just 16 points on 18 percent shooting in the second half as the Aggies slowly clawed back into the game. A Spencer Butterfield free throw gave the Aggies their first tie since the beginning of the game at 48-48 with 1:42 to go. It capped off an eight-point USU run.
That was as close as the Aggies would get, however. Louisiana Tech guard Raheem Appleby silenced the rocking Spectrum crowd with what was ultimately the game-winning 3-pointer on the Bulldogs' next trip.
“Their first-team All-WAC player Appleby makes what turns out to be the game-winner. Our first team All-WAC player has a cast on his hand (Preston Medlin),” Morrill said.
Butterfield attempted to tie the game up on the Aggies' next trip, but his shot was blocked by Tech’s Chris Anderson. After a defensive stop USU had one final rush down the floor to get up a tying chance. In a chaotic final 10 seconds Marcel Davis found Ben Clifford open for a 3-point chance at the buzzer, but the ball caromed harmlessly off the front of the rim.
“I thought it was going to drop,” Butterfield said of Clifford’s final look. “It wasn’t his fault. It was a great shot. He’ll hit it next time.”
While the Aggies played hard, their lack of shooting touch ultimately did them in. USU came into the game 20th in the nation in field goal percentage, but could only muster a 27-percent effort (15-55) against the aggressive Bulldog defense.
Junior center Jarred Shaw finished with career highs in points with 21 and blocks with 4 while adding 14 rebounds. Butterfield chipped in for 16 points and 15 rebounds to do the heavy lifting for USU. The other three starters in Morrill’s cobbled-together lineup — Clifford, Davis and Marvin Jean — finished with a combined six points on 0-20 shooting.
“I think we fought hard. I think we got a little better today even though we lost,” Shaw said. “We just got better as a group. We have to learn from this, stay positive and move onto the next game.”
The Aggies' next three games will all come away from the friendly confines of the Spectrum. USU will head to Idaho on Thursday and Seattle on Saturday looking to avoid its first five-game losing streak since 1993.
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company