LOGAN — Utah State's basketball team got a glimpse into what the rest of its regular season is going to be like.
It wasn't pretty.
The short-handed Aggies were outmanned and outgunned by a hard-nosed UT Arlington squad, as the Mavericks dropped the Aggies 74-68 in front of 7,229 fans at the Spectrum on Thursday night. The loss marks the first three-game losing skid for the Aggies since 2008.
After receiving news earlier this week that Kyisean Reed will miss the rest of the regular season with an ACL tear and Preston Medlin will miss at least six weeks with a wrist fracture, the Aggies were left with just eight scholarship players for the rest of 2012-13. Only one of those eight players, Jarred Shaw, was a starter on opening night.
Led by guard Spencer Butterfield’s 23-point, 11-rebound effort, the Aggies fought valiantly to protect their home court, but the team clearly missed Medlin and Reed's enormous contributions, especially on the offensive end. Ben Clifford scored 12 while Marvin Jean added 11 to pace the sputtering USU offense.
Utah State was able to hang tight for most of the game, but ran out of gas down the stretch. Butterfield tied the game at 48-all on a 3-point make with 10:53 to go, but after that the Aggie offense stalled out. It would be over four minutes until USU would make another shot from the field — another Butterfield trey with 6:01 left — and another four minutes after that until its next field goal make when forward Clifford made a three-pointer of his own with 1:58 left.
“All the credit goes to UT Arlington,” said a dejected Butterfield, who went straight back out to the floor following interviews to practice his jumper. “They played well down the stretch and we made a couple of mistakes. We had a chance but they played a better game.”
During their crucial nine-minute span the visiting Mavericks methodically built their lead to 70-64 with just under two minutes remaining. With a perfectly healthy Aggie squad, a six-point deficit in two minutes to go might not be too much to ask. But in USU's first game without Reed and Medlin, six points was a mountain. A furious last-minute comeback attempt led by Butterfield and Clifford ultimately fell short as shots would not drop.
“We tried hard. We were just a few plays away from having a chance to win,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “We’re not looking for excuses. We had lots of chances.”
Morrill’s short-handed bunch will need to play near-perfect games to give themselves chances to win for the rest of the season. A couple of rushed shots down the stretch, a rough 18-of-27 night from the free-throw line and 17 turnovers were more than enough mistakes to do the Aggies in against the Mavericks.
“We had lots of opportunities around the basket that we couldn’t finish,” Morrill said. “We turned the ball over too many times and had trouble with their ball-screen defense. ... There was a bunch of things.
“We just can’t be satisfied with playing close because we’re playing with a little bit of a skeleton crew.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Aggies on Saturday. First-place Louisiana Tech will visit Logan hoping to keep its perfect 8-0 conference record intact.
Kraig is covers Utah State sports for the Deseret News. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.