There were a lot of loose nerves in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum Saturday night, and with good reason. USU surrendered a double-digit lead midway through the second half, allowing the Idaho State Bengals to claw their way back into the contest and tie the score at 37 apiece with 9:47 remaining.
ISU's comeback effort was in vain, however. The Utah State Aggies prevailed in the Spectrum, 56-48, for their first win of the season and their eighth straight win in home-openers.
Coming out of the locker room, the Bengals switched their defense to a matchup zone and upped their intensity. It paid off. ISU outscored the Aggies 14-7 over the first 10 minutes and change of the second half. Utah State looked outmanned, outgunned and frustrated. The famously rowdy Spectrum was much quieter than usual.
Enter Aggie JC transfer Spencer Butterfield. Twenty-two seconds after the Bengals fought their way back, Butterfield hit a clutch 3-pointer from the left wing and gave the Aggies a lead they would never surrender.
From that point on, the feel of the game completely changed. ISU wasn't able to maintain the defensive pressure that had pulled the Bengals level.
Butterfield was a key offensive cog down the stretch. Over the final 10 minutes, the junior from Loomis, Calif., hit three treys, helping to expand the Aggie lead back to double digits with 4:35 remaining. USU big men Jarred Shaw and Kyisean Reed were also crucial down the stretch. The two big men scored six of the Aggies' last 11 points, the rest coming on free throws, a Preston Medlin layup, and one of Butterfield's 3-pointers.
For the game, the Aggies shot 46.8 percent and had 15 assists. By comparison, ISU shot 39.6 percent and had 11 assists. The Aggies also dominated the glass, out-rebounding Idaho State 36-23.
The Aggies struggled mightily with turnovers in this game, however, particularly down the stretch. USU turned the ball over multiple times under full-court pressure with less than four minutes remaining, and for the game, the Aggies turned it over 17 times to ISU's 12 miscues.
Things won't get easier for USU from here on out. The Aggies will next face St. Mary's next Thursday night in the Spectrum.