LOGAN — Utah State's surprising 52-51 loss to Idaho in the Spectrum Saturday left Stew Morrill searching for words.
"I really don't have answers for you," he told reporters. "We were soft. We looked like we were in a daze. We looked tired. We looked everything you can think of.
"We didn't compete very hard and they did," Morrill continued. "They deserve all of the credit. I'm disappointed that we didn't respond."
The Aggies never led or pulled even after allowing Idaho to break a tie with seven straight points late in the first half. Tyrone Hayes, who finished with a game-high 20 points, accounted for all of the pivotal scores as the Vandals earned their first-ever win in the Spectrum. They entered the game with nine straight losses to the Aggies overall and were winless in seven trips to Logan dating back to 1966.
"Idaho came out as the aggressor for the entire first half and most of the second," said USU's Nate Harris. "We didn't decide to play until late in the game and we can't win that way."
Trailing by 10 points with less than 7 1/2 minutes remaining, USU clawed back into contention and actually had a couple of chances to prevail down the stretch.
The Aggies, however, failed to cash in on the opportunities. They never scored again after Desmond Penigar made it 52-51 on a basket with 55.8 seconds remaining.
The drought proved costly — so, too, did the absence of offensive rebounds in the final minute. Two missed shots by Cardell Butler, including a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining, were rebounded by Idaho.
Success on the boards enabled the Vandals to leave victorious despite being held scoreless over the final 3:05.
"We were quite frankly really soft. They were physical and we didn't respond. That showed on the boards," Morrill said. "We played eight to 10 minutes of aggressive basketball and they played 40 minutes. They deserved to win. That's basically the way it was."
Though the game officially ended when a long, desperation heave by Penigar slammed off the backboard as time expired, Idaho put itself in position to prevail with stellar defense and a timely rebound on USU's second-to-last possession.
Following a timeout with 8.3 seconds remaining, the Aggies got to the ball to point guard Mark Brown to set up a game-winning score. He searched for options, but the Vandals had things covered until Butler managed to get open on the right-side of the arc.
The shot that followed bounced off the rim and into the hands of Idaho's Justin Logan.
"When it really counted, we got the stops we needed," said Idaho coach Leonard Perry. The former USU assistant called it the biggest win of his two-year stint with the Vandals (12-13, 8-8).
It left the Aggies (19-8, 10-6) reeling and locked in as the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big West Conference tournament. Though they could still gain a share of the regular season title, frontrunners Santa Barbara (15-12, 12-4) and Irvine (18-8, 12-5) hold tiebreaking advantages.
"Right now we are just kind of soft. They hate that term but it's what we are. We are soft physically and mentally," Morrill said. "We looked stunned and dazed out there. We had one game this week and you would think we'd show up ready to play. We have won 19 games. We should show up believing we should win. That's disappointing."
USU, which closes out conference play at home against Northridge Thursday and Pacific Saturday, remains just a win away from a school-record fourth consecutive 20-win season.
GAME NOTES: The Aggies have now two league games at home for the first time since 1995-96 . . . USU's 51 points were its fewest in the Spectrum in more than seven years . . . Harris led the Ags with 13 points, while Penigar had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds . . . Ronnie Ross came off the bench after making 13 consecutive starts . . . Attendance was 7,448.