LOGAN — As the Aggies’ 16-point lead started to evaporate late in Monday night’s game, Utah State head coach Tim Duryea did the only sensible thing by removing his suit coat as the Montana State Bobcats applied more and more heat.
Fortunately for USU fans, Duryea’s jacket only remained off for about two minutes of game time. The third-year coach slipped it back on with just over five seconds remaining as his team managed to rebuild a relatively comfortable advantage before the final whistle.
“I’d really like to keep the coat on,” Duryea said following his team’s 81-73 victory at the Smith Spectrum. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that most nights.”
Down 41-40 at halftime, the Aggies (1-1) opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers from DeAngelo Isby. The junior guard out of Chicago hit both treys from the same spot on the floor about 6 feet in front of the Aggie bench against Montana State’s zone defense.
“He had a poor first half, and we talked about that,” Duryea said of Isby. “But he regrouped mentally, and I was really proud of him and his performance in the second half. I thought he showed a lot of courage and a lot of poise.”
Utah State never trailed the Bobcats (1-1) following the big shots by Isby, who ended up scoring 18 points and going 4 for 4 from 3-point range in his first home game as an Aggie.
As a team, the Aggies, who struggled offensively last Friday in a season-opening loss at Weber State, shot 56 percent from the floor against the Bobcats, including 10 of 18 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Koby McEwen knocked down 7 of 14 field-goal attempts for a game-high 20 points, while senior forward Alex Dargenton notched his first career double-double courtesy of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Utah State outrebounded Montana State 41-28, but the home team committed 21 turnovers to just 12 for the Bobcats.
“You obviously like to see improvement in your team from the first game to the second, and I thought our guys did a lot of good things tonight,” Duryea said. “But the 21 turnovers is obviously something that we need to clean up. That doesn’t go along with winning too often.”
Junior guard Tyler Hall (15 points), sophomore guard Harald Frey (15 points) and senior forward Joe Mvuezolo Jr. (12 points) all reached double figures for Montana State, as did senior forward Konner Frey (10 points), who played briefly at both Utah State and Utah Valley before making his way to Bozeman, Montana.
Like the Aggies in the second half, Montana State opened the first half with back-to-back 3-pointers to go up 6-0. Utah State quickly countered with a 12-2 run highlighted by consecutive treys by Sam Merrill and Brock Miller to take a 12-8 advantage, and after that, the contest went back and forth with five ties and eight lead changes in the opening half.
Utah State trailed by a point at intermission despite shooting 64 percent from the field, while Isby went into the locker room disappointed in his play after going scoreless in seven minutes.
“I told him (DeAngelo) at halftime that he was thinking too much,” McEwen said. “That was like me last year. I told him he should just regroup, clear his mind and go out and do what he can do.”
Isby’s two 3-pointers at the start of the second half ignited is confidence, as well as that of his teammates. The JUCO transfer’s third 3-pointer of the game extended Utah State’s advantage to 54-45 and prompted an MSU timeout with 14:46, and a driving layup by McEwen seven minutes later resulted in Utah State’s biggest lead of the night at 73-57.
Utah State was unable to completely close out the Bobcats down the stretch, however, thanks to too many missed free throws and too many turnovers in advantageous positions for the visiting team to turn them into quick scores. Montana State got as close as five points with 33 seconds to go.
“I thought we could have finished the game a lot cleaner than we did, but that’s a good learning experience when you can still win the game,” Duryea noted. “But we just can’t turn the ball over for touchdowns near mid-court like that. That’s something that we’ve got to learn from. A lot of our players haven’t been in that position before, and we’ll get better there.”