LOGAN — At times it looked more like a World Wrestling Entertainment bout than a basketball game, but Utah State survived and advanced.
The Aggies (20-15) scrapped to a 77-69 win over Loyola Marymount (21-13) to move on to the final four of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Utah State won its 20th game for the 13th straight season and will host Oakland on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Spectrum in a semifinal game.
The Aggies have been an average free throw shooting team this season, but broke out in a big way on Wednesday night. Forced to the line early and often by 21 Loyola Marymount fouls, USU made their freebies, going 32-of-35 from the line. In the final two and a half minutes Utah State made 15-of-16 from the stripe to seal the deal.
"It was a rough game tonight, but it was good that we scrapped and got the win tonight," said forward Preston Medlin. "We just tried to keep our cool and play our game."
Medlin finished with 26 points and eight rebounds for the night to lead all scorers.
Both teams played fast and loose with the ball, combining for 41 turnovers in a sloppy and physical game. The Lions came up with 14 steals, many of them on the full-court press to try and pull themselves back into the game.
The deficit was down to 62-58 with 3:05 left, but the Aggies' clutch free throw shooting kept Loyola at bay. Trailing by nine with just a minute and a half left, the Lions bench was whistled for two technical fouls following a small scrap that sent Medlin and Lions guard Jarred DuBois to the ground.
Pane made the following four free throws to end any doubt.
"Playing in this atmosphere isn't something that I would wish upon anyone of us, I hope if we play them again that it will be on a neutral floor," Loyola Marymount head coach Max Good said. "We could play it in Thailand; I would like to play them on our floor. This is a tough place to play and everyone knows that."
Senior Morgan Grim has been taking advantage of his final games in a Utah State uniform. Grim battled ankle injuries nearly all season, but has been feeling and playing a lot better following a few days off to heal after the WAC tournament. Grim had 16 points and eight rebounds in one of his best all-around games of the season.
"It's been so fun these last few games here at home, like a second chance to keep playing," Grim said. "I'm just taking what the defense gives us. I'm not super athletic, so I have to be a little bit smarter."
The Aggies are forced to move the semifinal game against Oakland to Sunday afternoon to accommodate the Spectrum hosting WAC gymnastics championships over the weekend.
"We are happy to have another home game. Obviously in this valley we'd rather not play on Sunday, but you do what they tell you. Hopefully those that don't like it will forgive us and go to church and then come to the game," Aggies head coach Stew Morrill joked after the game.
The winner of the Utah State-Oakland matchup will play either Fairfield or Mercer in the CIT Championship game sometime next week.
Oakland 77, Rice 70
Fairfield 67, Robert Morris 61
Mercer 79, Old Dominion 73
USU 77, L. Marymount 69