LOGAN — Finally done celebrating with family, friends and fans on the floor of the Spectrum Saturday night, Utah State coach Craig Smith sat down behind the table in the media room for mere seconds before immediately standing back up, excusing himself and going back out into the hallway.
Smith returned a few minutes later to answer questions about the 81-76 upset of No. 12 Nevada that vaulted the Aggies (24-6, 14-3) into first place in the Mountain West Conference, but it was clear that USU’s first-year coach had left to receive an update about the postgame drama involving the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3), and, in particular, senior guard Jordan Caroline.
On his way back to Nevada’s locker room, a highly agitated Caroline was captured on video posted online by KUTV-TV being held back by teammates just moments after apparently breaking the glass on a fire extinguisher case hanging in the hallway.
The reasons behind Caroline’s outburst are unclear, inasmuch, by most accounts and video evidence, the Wolf Pack went through the postgame handshake line with the Aggies without incident. But because Utah State fans stormed the court after their team’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2007, the Nevada contingent ended up going up the home team’s tunnel to the right rather than attempting to cross the court and go up the visitors’ tunnel to the left.
But that meant the Wolf Pack then had to walk past USU’s locker room and down a short hallway in order to reach their locker room, and that is where Caroline ended up having to be restrained by his teammates, as well as a Utah State campus policeman, who attempted to shepherd the group to its locker room.
Utah State athletic director John Hartwell released a statement relating to the events late Saturday night.
“After being notified of an incident in the hallway of the locker rooms after the completion of the game, I have been consulting with Mountain West senior associate commissioner Dan Butterly, who was in attendance at the game, and Nevada deputy AD Rory Hickock, who was also in attendance at the game. In addition, I have spoken by phone with Nevada AD Doug Knuth and we will continue to gather information, including surveillance videos of exactly what happened and work closely with the Mountain West Conference and the University of Nevada to determine what started the situation and how we are going to deal with those involved.”
In turn, Knuth tweeted out a series of thoughts on the matter Sunday.
“We continue working closely with Utah State and the Mountain West Conference office to determine the facts of the emotional post game events. I have also been in regular communication with (Nevada head coach) Eric Musselman and our Deputy AD who was at the game with the team.
“The hallway video shows an emotional young man responding to a highly charged game environment and a difficult loss. Our staff stepped in to support this young man.
“I appreciate Coach Musselman maintaining a calm demeanor and helping his players and staff through a difficult situation. Coach Muss and I will continue gathering information and working with the MW office.
“We look forward to a full review by the MWC office and will follow their lead on any needed response. Until then, we move forward. Thank you. Go Pack!”
Second on the Wolf Pack in scoring at 18.4 points per game coming into Saturday’s showdown, Caroline went just 3 for 15 from the field and 0 for 5 from 3-point range before fouling out with 57 seconds left and Nevada trailing by four points.
ESPN's Michael Eaves tweeted that Caroline’s tirade might have been triggered by something a USU staff member said to him, and that Musselman also said some of his players had been touched by fans while in the process of inbounding the basketball.
Following the game, the media was informed that neither Musselman nor his players would be available for postgame interviews, leaving KUTV’s video as the lone source of information about the incident, which quickly went national, being discussed by college basketball experts around the country and making the Nevada at Utah State clash as the third story at the start of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Sunday morning.
However unfortunate, the postgame drama at the Spectrum seemed almost fitting considering the physical nature of the game between the top two teams in the Mountain West. The Aggies had three players foul out — one fewer than the Wolf Pack — and freshman forward Justin Bean was nearly knocked out of the game after receiving a blow to the head after snagging an offensive rebound.
The USU training staff managed to stop the bleeding above his eye, though, and got Bean back on the court, just in time to take a hard charge down the stretch. As did teammate Sam Merrill, who might have got dunked on by Nevada star Caleb Martin in the final moments, but he did pick up the offensive foul call, which helped cement the victory.
The former Bountiful Brave standout played all 40 minutes for the third straight game, scoring a game-high 29 points to lead the Aggies to their biggest win in years.18 comments on this story
“In a heavyweight fight, it’s often not how many punches you can throw but how many you can take and keep getting up,” Smith said. “... You’ve got to just keep on coming and keep trying to make plays, and our guys have approached the game with a blue-collar mentality and they just kept coming.”
Utah State will now turn its focus toward its season finale at Colorado State (12-17, 7-9) Tuesday night in Fort Collins. A win will secure at least a share of the regular-season conference title, while a Nevada loss at Air Force (13-15, 8-8) on Tuesday or at home against San Diego State (19-10, 11-5) would give the Aggies the championship and the No. 1 seed at the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship March 13-16 in Las Vegas.