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Aggies bust the bracket; 12th straight over Wichita State

February 21st, 2010 Posted in Sports

Story by Dan Fawson
Photos by Christian Hathaway

LOGAN—Departing from Western Athletic Conference play for 40 nationally televised minutes Saturday, the Utah State men’s basketball team extended its winning streak to 12 straight, defeating Wichita State 68-58.

The game was televised on ESPN2 as part of ESPN’s Bracketbuster series, which pits quality teams from mid-major conferences across the country to provide exposure for lesser known teams that may make an impact during the postseason.

“I told them beforehand that this is not a conference game, but it’s still an important game,” head coach Stew Morrill said. “It’s a chance to play a quality team out of conference, and get a home-and-home (series) that are so hard to come by, and it’s extra-special when you win.”

The Aggies (22-6) opened the game strong on both ends of the floor, with particular emphasis on establishing the low-post game of junior forward Tai Wesley. Wesley scored nine of the team’s first 11 points, setting the tone for an Aggie offense which would eventually tally 32 points in the paint.

“It seemed like they weren’t double-teaming,” Wesley said. “Their guards weren’t helping down, and I just had one guy on my back. I’m real comfortable when my back’s to the basket and only one guy’s guarding me.”

Shortly after Wesley’s early scoring spurt, USU’s defense began to seize control of the first half. A layup from Wichita State’s JT Durley cut the Aggie lead to 16-13 with 11:24 to play in the half, but the Shockers couldn’t get the ball to drop again for more than eight minutes. During that stretch, the Aggies went on a 10-0 run and stifled the Shockers into a 0-for-12 shooting slump.

The Shockers (22-7) shot 29.6 percent from the field in the first half and turned the ball over five times. Wesley believes much of the Aggies active team defense can be attributed to the game’s late start.

“I think our guys were just ready to go,” Wesley said. “When you have to wait around, and wait around for a game that doesn’t start ‘til 10, it’s hard not to get anxious and excited, and I think that’s what it was.”

The Aggies also changed their look on defense, keeping the visitors off-balance. “I thought switching up our defenses helped us a little bit,” Morrill said. “We’d guard them man, then we’d guard them zone, and they had a little trouble getting into a flow in the first half.”

After the halftime break, the Shockers came back strong with a 6-0 run, trimming the Aggie lead to four, but Utah State quickly answered with a 12-2 run of its own. The Aggies were led in the second half by strong bench contributions from sophomore forward Brady Jardine and junior guard Brian Green, who combined for 13 second-half points on 5-7 shooting.

“Those two have been solid off the bench and that’s exactly what we need,” Wesley said. “Brian and Brady have been just lengthening our team and our depth, and that’s helped us a ton.”

Following the Aggies’ 12-2 run, the Shockers were never really able to get within striking distance, but they did keep the game close. A rash of late three’s had them within eight of Utah State, 58-50, with 2:58 left. But Pooh Williams’ three-pointer, followed by a Wesley steal leading to a layup by junior guard Tyler Newbold, effectively sealed the win for the Aggies.

“I was really pleased with our team,” Morrill said. “That’s a good win. That’s a good basketball team we played, and we had to play well in lots of phases of the game to win.”

The Aggies were once again paced by the steady play of senior point guard Jared Quayle. While he managed only seven points on the night, Quayle was nearly flawless in running the Aggie offense, totaling seven assists compared to zero turnovers.

“That’s phenomenal,” Morrill said. “Here’s a kid that was two-guard most of his career, and got moved to the point—strictly the point—when he came here, and he just has adapted so well.

“He’s getting hawked all night long; he’s just getting harassed, and just does a great job of running our offense,” the coach added.

Wesley led the Aggies in scoring with 13 points, Bendall chipped in 12, and Jardine added 11. The Shockers were led by Durley’s 12, and 11 off the bench from David Kyles.

The Aggies return to WAC play Friday when they travel to take on Hawaii. While the Warriors are tied for last place in the WAC at 2-10, Morrill still expects a challenge.

“I expect a hard time,” he said. “It’s hard to win over there, and unless you’ve been over there, and taken teams over there, it’s hard to explain. I don’t care what their record is; I don’t care about any of that. You’ve got to go over there and play.”


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