IRVINE, Calif. It took the Utah State men's basketball team approximately five minutes to go from the penthouse to the outhouse Saturday in a 70-51 loss to host UC Irvine.
With 5:20 to go in the first half, the Aggies (2-3) enjoyed a comfortable 22-12 lead. But the Anteaters (2-1) caught fire from the field, unleashing a 23-2 run before halftime that sent Utah State reeling and from which the Aggies never fully recovered.
"We got taken out of our offense with their defense, and our response was to throw up a bad shot or turn it over," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "Instead of being calm and getting emotion, we just started handing them the ball and they got a bunch of points off of turnovers."
A sudden surge of outside marksmanship sparked the Anteaters. Thanks in large part to hitting five 3-pointers in a three-minute span after opening the game missing its first seven attempts from downtown, UC Irvine transformed a 10-point deficit to a 35-25 halftime advantage in little over five minutes.
"That kind of thing drains you," USU senior guard Kris Clark said. "You've got to have mental toughness, that fight within you, to be able to come back down the next time and get yourself a basket or get a stop. But we kept turning the ball over. Guys were breaking down, getting down on themselves."
Morrill attempted to rally his troops at halftime, and the Aggies looked reenergized to begin the second half. Led by a pair of 3-pointers from Jaycee Carroll, Utah State managed to cut its deficit to 44-38 with 11:35 remaining. But just when the Aggies appeared on the verge of getting back into the game, the Anteaters mercilessly unleashed 13 straight points to extend their lead to 19.
"We got manhandled tonight," Morrill said. "We just got totally out-physicaled. Irvine did a really good job of (putting bodies) on us and playing physical man-to-man defense, and we didn't respond."
Carroll led USU with 21 points, tying him with Marvin Roberts for fifth place on Utah State's all-time scoring list. Senior forward Stephen DuCharme provided a physical inside presence for the Aggies, scoring nine points and hauling in 11 rebounds.
Kevin Bland led UC Irvine with 15 points and eight rebounds. Chuma Awaji and Brett Lauer came off the bench to each score 14 points for the Anteaters.
Utah State committed 18 turnovers and shot 36 percent from the field.
The Aggies host Austin Peay on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.