It was just one of those days when you’re feeling good and the ball is going in. It was a good day for me and the team. I’m happy it happened. —Koby McEwen
LOGAN — In a wild battle of teams with depleted rosters and 3-point gunners, the Utah State prevailed over New Mexico 89-80 Wednesday night thanks to an epic performance by Koby McEwen.
The sophomore guard totaled a career-high 31 points while adding a career-best 13 rebounds along with six assists and three steals in a full 40 minutes of action at the Spectrum.
“It was just one of those games,” said McEwen, who went 10 of 15 from the field, 6 of 8 from 3-point range and 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.
“It was just one of those days when you’re feeling good and the ball is going in. It was a good day for me and the team. I’m happy it happened.”
The win was the third in a row for Utah State (13-11 overall, 6-5 in the Mountain West) after losing four straight. In addition to McEwen, the Aggies also got 18 points from sophomore guard Sam Merrill, and 15 points each from junior forwards Dwayne Brown Jr. and Quinn Taylor.
The Lobos (11-12, 6-4) had been on a roll, winning five of their last six games coming into the contest. But injuries, a family situation, and the late suspension of senior point guard Antino Jackson just prior to leaving Albuquerque left first-year coach Paul Weir with just seven available players for Wednesday’s game.
Still, New Mexico battled the entire way, closing a 15-point deficit down to just three points with 63 seconds left before the Aggies were able to regain control and close out with the victory with a 6-0 run.
“I’m really proud of our starters. I thought they showed a lot of toughness,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said. “They were some tired guys at the end of the game, but I thought they were really determined to finish it out.”
Junior guards Anthony Mathis (25 points) and Chris McNeal (21 points) helped keep the Lobos in the game, as did New Mexico’s perimeter shooting. The visitors went 13 of 28 from 3-point range, nearly matching the Aggies’ 13 of 24 performance from beyond the arc.
As a team, New Mexico shot 48.3 percent from the field, while Utah State connected on 54.2 percent of their field goal attempts. The Aggies also outrebounded UNM by a 32-25 margin.
“I think that was a really good victory for us,” Taylor said. “New Mexico was a really hot team, and they shoot a lot of threes so they can score the ball really well. There first half we came out kind of sluggish on defense, but our offense was there, which was nice. And in the second half we were able to get our defense better, and also our rebounding, which really helped us.
“And then it’s always good when you have a player who can score 30 and play the whole game,” Taylor added. “Koby played a crazy game.”
McEwen provided a taste of what was to come by scoring USU’s first eight points of the game, then really served notice that it was his night when he banked in a 3-pointer from nearly 30 feet out midway through the second half.
“When I banked that in, I said, ‘OK, today is my day,’” said McEwen, whose previous career-high was 28 points, reached on two occasions.
Powered by McEwen, the Aggies took an early 18-8 lead, but New Mexico rallied back and put together a 15-3 run late in the first half to go up 35-30 with just over three minutes left. The hosts were able to close out the half with an 8-0 run, however, sparked by a stutter-step drive by McEwen worthy of an NFL running back, and a 3-point play by Taylor with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Utah State then improved on its 39-35 halftime lead with some hot perimeter shooting early in the second half, eventually pulling away by as many as 15 points on four different occasions. After surrendering a 9-0 run to their guests, the Aggies came right back with a 9-0 spurt of their own before Mathis inspired a 16-4 burst that left the hosts clinging to an 83-80 advantage with 1:03 to go.
But McEwen found Taylor with a hard bounce pass on USU’s next possession to finally stop the run, and a Taylor rebound on a missed free throw followed by four made free throws from McEwen and Diogo Brito closed out the victory for the Aggies.
“We gutted it out,” McEwen said. “We essentially had a six-man, seven-man rotation just like they did. A lot of guys played a lot of minutes. We fought throughout the whole game and came out with a win.”
However, Duryea was not pleased with the play of his bench. with just three players contributing a total of 21 minutes and four points. Senior forward Alex Dargenton, who reinjured an ankle in last Saturday’s win at Fresno State, was available only in an “emergency,” while senior guard Julion Pearre will likely be sidelined for at least another week.
“There’s never been a team that needs a bye more than this team needs a bye,” Duryea declared. “We’re going to take three of the next four days completely off. We have some guys that are just on fumes.”
After not playing this Saturday, the Aggies will return to action on Feb. 7 at Wyoming.