LOGAN Three games into the season, the Utah State Aggies are still searching for an identity.
Utah State coach Stew Morrill used his second different starting lineup and Modou Niang, who wasn't in uniform when the game started, dressed at halftime and entered the game, burning his redshirt year to serve as evidence to that fact.
"We're trying to figure out who we are and what we're doing," Utah State guard Jaycee Carroll said following the Aggies' harder-than-it-should-have-been 77-58 victory over NAIA Montana-Western Monday night.
"As individuals we know what kind of game we play. As a team we're still struggling to find that. That's real evident with the amount of turnovers we're having. As soon as we start to understand those things our turnovers will go down, our assists will go up and our shooting percentages will also go up."
Morrill isn't worried about it just yet.
"We are trying to find our way, and we will find our way," he said. "We might take some lumps along the way. That's just they way it is. They will hang in there."
Beating Montana-Western was supposed to be a lot easier than it was.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Aggies had trouble finding the spark they needed in the first half.
The Aggies, who had 18 turnovers in the game, led by as many as 11 only to see the Bulldogs cut the lead to three with an 8-0 run with 5:46 left in the half. In an eight-minute stretch in the first half, the Aggies had just one field goal but stayed afloat by hitting 9 of 10 foul shots.
Montana-Western could have helped its own cause a little better, but the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times in that stretch.
With Utah State's lead down to seven, Carroll, who scored a game-high 31 points, broke a four-minute field goal scoring drought with a hoop with 20 seconds left in the half, and Kris Clark drilled a half-court shot at the buzzer to balloon the Aggie lead to 12.
Not happy with the events in the paint in the first half, Morrill added Niang, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman, to the lineup mid-game and the Aggies were assessed a technical foul at the start of the second half because of it.
It was something the Aggies were willing to do, Morrill said.
"We just needed Modou. He was really not sure if he wanted to redshirt," Morrill said of his decision to add a player to the lineup mid-game for the first time in his coaching career.
"He brings some athleticism and some size to the game," Morrill added. "He is raw because he is a freshman, but he is long and he is going to change some shots. We just need him."
Niang's numbers were nothing to write home about one point, one rebound, one steal and two blocks but his energy charged up the team.
"I don't think just the crowd got excited. I think we all got excited," Utah State's Tai Wesley said on Niang's entry. "The whole team, the whole bench. We were happy to see Modou get up and down the court."
"Modou has been practicing well," Carroll said. "He's been listening well and he's been progressing and in a sense you can say he earned it."
The Bulldogs cut the lead to nine on a 3-pointer by Chad Myers with 11:35 left, but the Aggies finally turned up the heat.
Carroll and Gary Wilkinson scored five points each in the Aggies' decisive 15-4 run to put the game out of reach.
The Aggies shot just 41.5 percent from the field, but they connected on 25 of 28 foul shots. Defensively, Utah State forced 27 turnovers and recorded nine steals and five blocks.
Wilkinson finished with 12 points, while Pooh Williams, who started in place of DeUndrae Spraggins, added eight.
Gus McDonald led Montana-Western with 19.The Aggies begin a two-game road trip Thursday at Cal Poly and end it Saturday at UC Irvine. Utah State is back home next Monday with Austin Peay.
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