LOGAN — Seeking a little tune-up to help them prepare for the start of conference play next week, the Aggies scheduled an NAIA opponent for Saturday night that just happens to wear the same colors as San Jose State.
But following a rather lackluster, 75-63 win over Wayland Baptist at the Spectrum, Utah State head coach Stew Morrill clearly hopes his team puts together a better performance against the blue-and-gold Spartans on Wednesday night than they did Saturday against the similarly attired Pioneers.
“The best thing about that is, it’s an after-Christmas game after four days off and a couple of practices, and it’s a win and it’s over,” Morrill declared. “That’s the best thing about that game.
“They’re 11-1, ranked nationally as an NAIA team, and they came in and played hard. I didn’t think we played with nearly enough emotion.”
Coming in, Utah State (7-5) knew it would have its hands full with Wayland Baptist, which is ranked 16th in the country in the latest NAIA rankings. Based in Plainview, Texas, the Pioneers (11-2) are off to the best start in school history, and WBU has been averaging nearly 90 points per game.
Although Utah State never trailed in the game, took a 33-27 lead into halftime and led by as many as 15 points in the second half, the young and inexperienced players were still never able to really put the Pioneers away.
“I think everybody was a little bit rusty, and they came ready to play. Give them credit,” USU sophomore forward Jalen Moore said. “They rebounded hard and played hard. They probably played harder than we did most of the game until we started making some shots at the end, and we went on some little runs.”
Moore led USU with 17 points and nine rebounds, while freshman forward David Collette ended up with 14 points and six boards in just 23 minutes.
The clear star of the game for the Aggies, however, was ultra-energetic Sean Harris, who helped provide something for the rather small, student-less crowd to cheer about. The senior forward ended up going 5-for-5 from the field on his way to a career-high 10 points, while also pulling down a career-best eight rebounds.
“I try to bring a little emotion to the games,” Harris said with a big grin. “I try and bring a little energy and some offensive boards and all that stuff every game.
“I try and bring it every day. I try not to take any days off sometimes it’s hard to bring it every day, but being the senior on the team, I feel like I have to set the example.”
Utah State outrebounded Wayland Baptist 37-35, making it the first time all season the Aggies have pulled down more boards than an opponent. The Aggies, who were coming off a 68-65 overtime loss to South Dakota State at the World Vision Classic that snapped a 50-game winning streak in regular-season tournaments hosted in the Spectrum, shot 47.3 percent from the field, knocked down 7-of-18 3-point attempts and went 16-of-18 from the free-throw line.
Wayland Baptist got 20 points from junior forward Bunja Yaboe and 18 from senior forward Royal Crouch, but the Pioneers shot just 37.3 percent as a team, including 4-of-19 from 3-point range.
“It was good for our team to get to come here and play in this environment,” WBU head coach Matt Garnett said. “Coach Morrill does some really good thing with this team. It’s a positive experience for us.”