SALT LAKE CITY — Coming into the season, the Aggies knew they would have to count on their heralded backcourt of Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill if they were going to be successful.
So, considering that McEwen and Merrill combined to go 2 for 14 from the floor and totaled just six points, it’s hardly a surprise that Utah State lost to Utah Saturday night at Vivint Arena.
And yet, thanks to a stunning 57 points from USU’s bench, the Aggies were still somehow able to make the contest competitive, even after falling behind 19-2 to open the first game of the inaugural Beehive Classic. Leading the rally, which saw Utah State climb to within four points in the second half, were junior guard DeAngelo Isby and junior forward Quinn Taylor, who scored 24 and 22 points, respectively.
“I’ll tell you, in the first half Taylor and Isby saved our bacon,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said following USU’s 77-67 loss to the Utes.
“Our starters had nothing going. No rhythm, no flow, foul trouble — everything you can think of — and Quinn and DeAngelo stepped up. They were tremendous in the first half, and they gave us a fighting chance to even be competitive in the second half.”
Taylor, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Saturday, came off the bench and almost immediately hit a 3-pointer to help the Aggies (5-6) start to climb out of that 19-2 hole. The Houston native continued his hot play throughout the half, going 6 for 9 from the floor and 4 of 6 from 3-point range to reach a new career-high of 20 points before the Aggies even reached halftime.
“They were kind of keying in on Sam and Koby on their drives, just trying to take away their games, and they were able to kick out and I was able to get open,” said Taylor, whose previous season-high of nine points came in USU’s first game against Weber State.
“I just try and do what the game tells me. I try not to force anything, and I just kind of feel into more threes this game and was able to knock a couple down.”
Meanwhile, Isby seems to have returned to the early season form that had him score in double figures in six of USU’s first seven games. The Chicago native had a horrible shooting night (2 for 16 from the field, 1-10 from 3-point range) while playing close to home in USU’s loss at Valparaiso on Nov. 28 and had scored a total of 17 points in the Aggies’ last three games.
Isby seemed to find his range in the first half against the Utes, however, and scored 11 points to help complement Taylor. The junior college transfer then added 13 in the second half and finished with a game-high 24 points as well as a game-high eight rebounds.
“I’ve just been trying to find my way back,” Isby said. “I’ve been in a little slump lately, so I hope this game will help me bounce back.”
Dwayne Brown Jr. scored USU’s first basket of the game, but that ended up being the only points out of the Aggies’ starting five in the first half as Taylor, Isby and senior guard Julion Pearre ended up combining for 34 of Utah State’s 36 points.
Merrill knocked down a couple of 3-pointers early in the second half, but the Bountiful native was never able to heat up on the home court of the Utah Jazz. The sophomore went 2 for 10 from the floor and finished with six points, numbers quite similar to the 2 for 9, four-point performance he had in last year’s loss to BYU at Vivint Arena.
“Sam just looks like he doesn’t have any bounce to me,” Duryea said of his team’s leading scorer. “He just looks like he’s a dead man walking, really. We’ve played 11 games, and eight of them have been in a 22-day span or something like that, and we’re pretty worn out. And he looks pretty worn out.”
But most disturbing for Aggies fans was the effort of McEwen, who missed all four of his shots, didn’t score a point and committed four turnovers before fouling out in the second half after playing just 16 minutes.
“Awful, I thought he was awful in every area — mentally, physically, on the defensive end, on the offensive end,” Duryea said of McEwen. “He was worried about things he shouldn’t be worried about. Worried about the officials, worried about this, worried about that. It was just really an awful performance.
“In a game like this, with our team, we can’t have an awful performance from him. We have to have him play a lot better than that, obviously.”
McEwen, who is still slowed by a high-ankle sprain suffered on Nov. 15, went 1 for 11 from the field Wednesday night against UC Irvine and is now shooting under 36 percent this season after making 46 percent of his attempts as a freshman.