It was a tough game, obviously, for us. We're trying to defend the home court, and we failed tonight. We started off slow on offense, and we struggled on defense for the most part of the game. —Utah State forward Alex Dargenton
LOGAN — If there was any doubt that Wednesday evening wasn’t Tim Duryea’s night, it became extremely apparent during a timeout with his Aggies trailing Colorado State by 18 points early in the second half.
As the much beloved “Kiss Cam” wandered about the Spectrum looking for couples to entice into kissing each other, the camera settled on Taylor and Tanner Duryea — the Utah State head coach’s twin 22-year-olds — creating a very awkward moment in the stands.
But then, the Aggies were all about awkward moments on the court, as well.
Utah State committed 17 turnovers and trailed by as many as 22 points during Wednesday’s 84-75 loss to the Rams, a stunning outcome considering the impressive performances the Aggies (10-8 overall, 3-2 in the Mountain West) had last week in wins over Fresno State and UNLV.
“It was a tough game, obviously, for us,” USU senior forward Alex Dargenton said. “We're trying to defend the home court, and we failed tonight. We started off slow on offense, and we struggled on defense for the most part of the game.”
Colorado State (9-9, 2-3) came into the game having lost three of its previous four games. And when leading scorer Prentiss Nixon crumpled to the ground after attempting a mid-range jumper just seven minutes into the contest, it seemed unlikely that the Rams would be able to keep USU from winning its third straight game.
“I thought he had torn his ACL, the way he was grabbing his knee and kind of screaming,” Duryea said of Nixon.
Nixon, who was already wearing a brace on his right knee, was helped off the court and then up the tunnel after the injury. But the junior guard returned with about eight minutes left in the half, despite practically having to drag around his right leg.
But CSU head coach Larry Eustachy, who was known for having tough players during his five-year tenure at Utah State, ended up getting an epic performance out of Nixon. Averaging 17.5 points per game prior to Wednesday, Nixon connected on 8 of 14 shots from the field, 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line on his way to putting up a game-high 26 points in 31 minutes.
“I was surprised that he came back, and to hit the shots he hit when he can hardly bend his knee, that’s just an amazing performance,” Duryea declared. “That’s a lot of toughness there.”
Nixon buried a couple of key shots midway through the second half as the Aggies tried to dig themselves out of a whole, helping to keep USU’s deficit in double digits until the final 22 seconds of the game.
Colorado State also got 19 points from senior forward Bob Che and 10 points and 15 rebounds from sophomore center Nico Carvacho. The Rams shot 46.3 from the field, went 8 of 18 from 3-point range and made all but seven of their 33 free throws.
The Aggies shot almost 47 percent in the second half after shooting just 37 percent in the first half to trail 41-31 at intermission, but the home team knocked down a modest 11 of 32 3-point attempts.
Sophomore guard Sam Merrill put up a team-high 18 points and went 4 for 6 from 3-point range, but reigning Mountain West Player of the Week Koby McEwen had an off-night, going just 5 for 17 from the field and 1 of 8 from long range on his way to 11 points.
Freshman forward Daron Henson came off the bench to contribute three 3-pointers and 12 points, but it wasn't enough to propel the Aggies past the Rams, who turned USU’s 17 turnovers into 22 points.
Dargenton, who played for the first time since re-aggravating a sprained ankle a week ago, scored two baskets in the first 80 seconds of the game, prompting Eustachy to call a timeout that, according to Duryea, was an intelligent move.
“Give Colorado State credit. They were tremendous. They had a great plan,” Duryea said. “We had two really good possessions to start the game offensively and felt like we were going to settle into the game in a rhythm. Then they called timeout, and they proceeded to take us out of about everything we wanted to do in the first half.”
Utah State did lead by as many as six points in the first half, but a 10-0 run by the Rams just before halftime ended up putting the visitors ahead of good and then CSU scored the first seven points of the second half to really take control of the contest.
“They went on that 10-or-so run right there toward the end of the first half. That's where they got that lead,” Merrill noted. “We didn't respond very well to that. Defensively, we weren't great all game.
“They play an offense that we really haven't faced all year that's just free-flowing, a lot of motion. They don't run any sets, and they run the ball well. Early on we did OK, but we struggled to adapt to that and we dug ourselves too big of a hole and couldn't come back."