FRESNO, Calif. For the first 20 minutes Thursday at Fresno State, the Utah State Aggies dug in and built a double-digit lead.
In the final 20 minutes, the Aggies held on for dear life.
Utah State, which led by as many as 17 in the first half, overcame a second-half, 3-point shooting barrage by Fresno State to post an important 77-72 Western Athletic Conference road victory.
The Aggies shot 55.2 percent in the first half, while Fresno State shot just 30.8 percent, which allowed the Aggies to break away early.
Fresno State, which hit just 1-of-8 3-point attempts in the first half, drilled 10-of-14 in the second half in shooting 58.6 percent from the field.
Utah State, however, shot 63.2 percent and hit 10-of-17 foul shots in the second half to do just enough to pull off its first-ever WAC victory in Fresno.
"Our first-half cushion was just enough to carry us," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "We made it interesting with a few turnovers."
With the victory, the Aggies (17-6) moved to 7-1 in league play, and maintain their one-game lead over Boise State.
The Aggies are now 2-1 on the road in league play, and winning for the first time in Fresno since joining the WAC, can only give the Aggies confidence as they have a boat load of road games in the next 10 days.
"I didn't want them feeling they had to win the first one. We came out pretty aggressive, but pretty free and that was good to see," said Morrill, whose team is now 3-5 overall on the road. "It is always nice to win the first game when you have four of five on the road."
Jaycee Carroll scored a team-high 22 points, and Kris Clark scored a career-high 16 as did Gary Wilkinson to pace the Aggies.
Carroll went 8-of-16 from the field, including 6-of-9 from the three-point line, while Clark was 5-of-8 and Wilkinson was 5-of-6, including a big three-pointer with 2:40 left in the game to give the Aggies a 10-point lead. It was the last field goal the Aggies would score. In the last two-plus minutes they hit 5-of-8 foul shots to maintain a nominal lead.
Fresno State (11-13, 4-6) cut the lead to three on a 3-pointer by Miller with just over a minute to play, who finished with 20 points, but the Bulldogs missed two shots and turned the ball over down the stretch before scoring at the buzzer.
Defensively, the Aggies were worried about the offensive explosiveness of Bell and Miller, and controlled them for a time.
In the first half alone, Bell and Miller were a combined 3-of-11 from the field (Miller was 0-for-4 from the three-point line) for 11 points.
In the second half, the duo combined for 29 points 17 from Miller, who hit five 3-pointers and 12 from Bell, who hit two. Hector Hernandez led the Bulldogs with 22. The Bulldog trio scored 62 of their 72 points.
"We talked about it at halftime that they we going to come out and pressure us and press us a little bit," Morrill said. "We knew they weren't going to shoot that badly, but we didn't know how good they were going to shoot. They lit it up in the second half."
The Aggies, winners of two straight and 12 of their last 13, took control of the game early. After missing their first two shots, the Aggies hit 9 of their next 13 to lead by 16 points following a three-ball by Carroll with 9:52 left in the half.
Carroll knocked down another three-pointer three minutes later to give the Aggies their biggest lead of the half at 17.
Utah State led by 14, 39-15, at the break.The Aggies, who chartered a plane to and from Fresno, arrived in Logan at 1 a.m. this morning, hosts San Jose State Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Spectrum before traveling to the University of Nevada on Monday.
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