LOGAN — A little paper airplane thrown onto the Smith Spectrum court Saturday night ignited Utah State coach Stew Morrill, and his outburst over the PA microphone was perhaps the spark the Aggies needed to avoid losing a second game in a row at home.
He was so mad he could hardly spit the words out: "Hey! Let's not throw s--- on the floor!" Morrill implored a crowd of 8,612, which witnessed a 70-66 Aggie win over Long Beach State.
"Have some class. You're going to cost us a technical," Morrill said. USU got a technical for debris thrown on the floor in the BYU game.
The win left the Ags 12-3 and 4-2 in the Big West Conference with five of their next seven games on the road.
Later Morrill said of the word he used with 9 1/2 minutes left, "It was the first thing that came to mind. We can't throw crap on the floor. That's the word I should have used."
The s-word, though, drew attention, and, curiously, the Aggies took a 51-49 lead when Desmond Penigar flew in for a rebound bucket right after that, and Tony Brown hit a 3-pointer for a 56-53 advantage. Whether it fired the Aggie win is debatable, but it certainly didn't hurt. Long Beach led early and often in this game but led only one more time after the airplane incident.
"Yeah, he said somebody got to bring intensity. I guess everyone was waiting for someone else to bring it," said Penigar, who brought 26 points and 11 rebounds. "He got on that mic - whewww, he brought the intensity." Penigar was already fired up, playing before an uncle who'd traveled from Louisiana.
"He stuttered. That was funny," Penigar said. "He don't stutter like that in practice."
With maybe six seconds left and USU up 68-66, Ronnie Ross missed the first of a one-and-one free throw, and 49er 6-foot-9 center Rudy Williams had a bead on it. But the always-fired-up Brennan Ray, 6-5, tipped it away from him, grabbed it and threw it before Long Beach could foul him to free-throw wizard Tony Brown to ice the game.
"We definitely fed off of (Morrill) tonight," said Ray. "He was fired up and ready to go. As soon as I saw him walk toward that table and grab that mic, I thought, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' Probably Coach is as big a competitor is there is out there."
After Penigar's putback, Long Beach went ahead 53-51 with a three, but Penigar hit a 12-footer from Toraino Johnson followed by a Brown 3-pointer, Penigar dunk and Evans 18-footer for a 60-55 lead. Vance Lawthorn cut that to three, but Brown ball-faked, got Williams into the air - where he said the same word Morrill had - dribbled once to the left and hit another three. Brown then added two free throws for a 65-59 lead that was soon to be needed.
Williams made a three-point play, Ray made one of two free throws and Williams had Long Beach down 66-64 with under a minute left with a bucket from underneath. Another Penigar putback gave the Ags a four-point margin, but Travis Reed's free throws halved it, leading to Ray's game-saving rebound.
Brown finished with 15 points, shooting 4-for-5. Ross had six assists. Reed with 18 and Williams with 17 points and seven boards led Long Beach, now 5-11 and 1-4 because of a tough pre-season schedule. USU was forced into 18 turnovers by a quick-handed Long Beach defense but had a 40-23 margin on the boards, including 18 offensive rebounds that accounted for about 17 points.
"This was probably the best game we've played all year," said Niner coach Wayne Morgan. "We had a chance to win, but offensive rebounds killed us."
Morrill wasn't pleased with USU's defense the last two games, but having to double-team Reed and Williams down low opened things for the other 49ers. Long Beach shot 46 percent from the field, USU 48 percent after a 56-percent first half.
The Aggies hit the road for the next three games, playing at Riverside and Fullerton later this week and at Idaho the following week.