Junior-college transfers Marcus Saxon and Kevin Rice had only two seasons to play at Utah State. Transfer/
walk-on Neal Geddes had less than that. Justin Jones had three years after a year at Idaho State and an LDS mission.The past two seasons, though, have been precious ones for Aggie boosters, the coaches and the players themselves.
This team leaves behind a school-record 25 wins, a 25-game home-winning streak that's the second-longest current streak in the NCAA behind only Kansas and carries over to next season, a 45-17 two-year overall record and the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years.
Jones leaves as the school single-season (0.495) and career (0.449) 3-point percentage champion, the team tied USU's all-time 3-point percentage mark (0.401) and Eustachy has USU's best career winning percentage (0.649). Saxon, Rice and junior Donnie Johnson were Big West Tournament all-stars, Saxon for the second time, and Saxon was BWC tourney MVP while Eustachy was BWC Coach of the Year.
Rice said he'll remember, "Two conference rings, a trip to the NCAA Tournament, two conference championships; I've got a lot of memories I can take with me, but winning this first game would have been even better.
"I feel good about what I accomplished in two years," said Rice. "I felt like I could have accomplished a little bit more, but I ran out of time."
Saxon was originally ticketed for Arkansas, recruited when the Razorbacks were NCAA champs, but Arkansas enrolled him before he'd completed junior college, and the NCAA determined he'd have to go elsewhere. He followed former JC coach Kermit Davis (a Eustachy assistant) to USU. "Yeah, I'm pretty happy I came here," said Saxon. "We had a chance in the tournament."
Saxon said he'll finish school this summer, then go home to South Car-o-li-na. He'll also participate in the NBA Portsmouth pre-draft camp and is considered a possible draft pick.
"Looking at the big picture," said Geddes, trying to push Thursday's loss aside, "it's been great for me. I was on two championship teams and made it to the Big Dance." Geddes came out of a redshirt year with seven games left last season because of injuries to teammates. This season, because of a transfer mixup, the NCAA told him he had to miss the first eight games. His career totaled 25 games.
Brandon Birch's career is just starting. The freshman played well in four postseason games, and, aside from the loss, everything's looking up for him. He spent the first few months learning, conditioning himself after an LDS mission and figuring out how to relax when he knows Eustachy will soon yell at him. Once he relaxed, the game came easier.
Thursday he said, "It's what every kid dreams about, playing in the NCAA Tournament." He added, "I sure didn't have the attitude it was just going to be a good learning experience in my first year. I wanted to have the team win this game. It was obvious, they pretty much had their way inside so right now, it put kind of a damper on things.
"It's a neat atmosphere, but we still lost," said Birch.
"It's real good for our school," said Saxon. "I wish them all the luck next year. I wish Coach all the luck."