Utah State, still unable to solve its season-long road woes or to stop the scoring of Jervis Cole, ended the regular season with a 69-59 loss to Fresno State Saturday evening in Selland Arena.
The Aggies, who trailed the entire game, were able to cut Fresno's lead to five points a couple of times late in the second half but never could get any closer.It was no small loss for the Aggies, who entered the game in a three-way tie for third place with Long Beach State and UC-Santa Barbara. USU, 12-15 overall and 10-8 in Big West Conference play, finished in a tie for fourth with Long Beach, which lost to Fullerton State. Santa Barbara claimed sole possession of third by beating Cal-Irvine.
The Aggies, who won just three road games all season (the Detroit win was on a neutral court), will play in the Big West postseason tournament sometime Thursday afternoon in Long Beach, Calif.
Fresno State, 14-13/9-9, claimed its first winning season since Boyd Grant stepped down as coach four years ago.
The Bulldogs, who defeated the Aggies 76-72 in Logan earlier this year, started and finished conference play with wins over USU. Cole, who averaged about 19 points a game this year, scored 24 points against USU Saturday - and 27 in the first win over USU. Guard Kevin Stevenson had 18 points.
The Bulldogs, the best defensive team in the conference, took a decisive lead about midway through the first half. By running down the shot clock on nearly every possession, they made any comeback by the Aggies difficult. The Aggies' totals of 17 points in the first half and 59 points for the game are both season lows.
Reid Newey, Kendall Youngblood and Dan Conway scored 10 points each. No other Aggie scored in double figures. Newey, who made just 4 of 17 shots in the first game against Fresno, made 4 of 13 this time, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range. His 10 points were his lowest output of the year.
The biggest differences in the game: USU made just four free throws (on 6 attempts), Fresno made 20 (on 28 attempts); and USU made just 1 of 12 3-point field-goal attempts, Fresno made 7 of 14.
"It's hard to win when you're playing against a zone defense and you go 1 for 12 from 3-point range," said USU Coach Kohn Smith. "And then we get only six free throws and the other team gets 28."
Fresno State opened an 11-point lead in the first half and at halftime led 26-17, as the Aggies made just 8 of 23 shots from the field. With four quick 3-point shots to start the second half, the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 13 points. With less than 10 minutes to play, the Aggies twice cut the Bulldogs' lead to six points, but both times their opponents responded and opened up another sizable lead.
With 4:35 remaining, Gilbert Pete scored to cut Fresno's lead to 49-44, and the Aggies regained possession of the ball, but Newey missed a shot and a chance to cut the deficit to four points. With 3:14 remaining, USU again cut the lead to five, 54-49, but Cole made a jumper and, following a USU turnover, a pair of free throws to push Fresno's lead to 11 again. USU never seriously challenge Fresno's lead again.