Utah State was the only team left in the Big West Conference without an away win, yet it was in sole possession of third place going into the Aggies' only game of the week at San Jose State Saturday.
Thanks to an 11-point turnaround to start the second half, fueled by a quick six points from Rich Jardine, the Aggies finally solved the mystery of the road and tightened their grip on third with a 7-5 record. They're 10-11 overall. San Jose is 3-9, 5-16. Utah State took its third straight win, second straight over San Jose, 69-62.San Jose, the league's last-place team, took a 35-34 lead into the locker room, then built it to 39-34 to open the half. "We could have really had a tendency to break then," said USU Coach Kohn Smith, "but our guys came back strong mentally."
The brain game was one thing Smith had wanted to concentrate on; he'd considered the earlier road losses to have been partly because the Aggies got emotionally involved with play and didn't stay technically sound.
The Aggies scored the next 11 points. Jardine scored their first six of the half and 10 of their first 15. He finished with 18 points, his best in Big West play this season, and seven rebounds.
The Aggies seized 45-39 control.
"We were fortunate to have a pretty good string right when we needed to, and we started to control the ball," said Smith. "Then they missed some shots."
"We were trying to get out and run on them," said Jardine, adding that the quick game got him open more since he was playing against a bigger, slower man.
San Jose made moves at USU, coming within 51-49, but one of the Aggies' two biggest plays of the game came when Kendall Youngblood hit Randy Funk for a backdoor layin to make it 53-49 and start an 8-0 USU burst. Funk's basket was followed almost immediately by the other play of the game, in Smith's opinion. Freshman Eric Franson hit a fallaway turnaround jumper and was fouled to make it 53-49.
San Jose, in fact, went eight minutes without a point as USU built its lead to 10, 59-49.
The Spartans weren't done, though, cutting the lead to five before the Aggies began making a parade of free throws for another 7-0 escapade.
Youngblood and Funk finished with 16 points each. Youngblood had 11 rebounds, Funk eight. For San Jose, Terry Cannon scored 23 after being held to 0 by the Aggies last week in Logan, an 88-71 USU win. Charles Terrell, who had 23 last week, had four Saturday. Michael St. Julien tied Youngblood with 11 rebounds.