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Utah State basketball: Aggies happy to leave Boise with a win

BOISE — Stew Morrill didn't care one bit that everyone of the 3,064 fans at Boise State's Taco Bell Arena saw an ugly Utah State victory.

No, Morrill was all smiles and pleased as punch after the game.

"We won," Morrill said after the much-closer-than-it-needed-to-be 72-67 Aggie victory. "We got out of here with a win. I'm not going to dissect it and feel bad about a damn thing."

He might not, but a bundle of turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch turned what was shaping up to be a Utah State blowout into a nail-biter. And whether Morrill wants to admit it or not, the Aggies (19-6 overall and 9-2 in the WAC) were again exposed as a team that at times struggles when a quick team throws a full-court press at Utah State.

"We played good there for a stretch," USU point guard Jared Quayle said. "Then they started pressing us and it messed us up."

The win puts Utah State in first place all by themselves with a 9-2 record after New Mexico State fell out of a tie for first thanks to a 19-point loss at Fresno State.

Boise State led only once in the game — at 3-2 just a minute into the game — and Utah State bolted out to a 16-point lead at 57-41 with 11:21 to play when Quayle hit a mid-range jumper.

For the next 11 minutes and 15 seconds, though, Utah State had to sweat it out.

"Their press bothered us," Morrill said, "and we didn't handle it very well."

Utah State had nine second-half turnovers and Boise State converted them into a dozen points.

The Aggies, who entered the game with the second-best free throw average in the nation, also tried to give the game away at the line. Utah State missed the front end of two one-and-one free throw situations — one of them an air ball by Pooh Williams — and another free throw later that conceivably cost USU five points in a suddenly close game.

Boise State closed the gap to just two points on a pair of occasions, but each time the Aggies had the answer.

The biggest answer, conveniently, came after a missed free throw by Quayle with 6 seconds to play.

Boise State's Anthony Thomas hit a driving layup with seven seconds to play to close the gap to two for the second time and the Broncos fouled Quayle quickly on the inbounds play.

The Aggie senior calmly dropped the first free throw to make it a 3-point lead and Morrill called timeout to set things up in both the worst-case and best-case scenarios.

It turned out only the worst-case scenario mattered as Quayle missed the second free throw and the Broncos rebounded to give themselves a shot at tying the game.

But that timeout left Utah State prepared.

As Boise State hustled to bring the ball upcourt, the Aggies fouled Thomas — sending him to the free-throw line and avoiding a potential game-tying buzzer beater.

"We knew we were going to foul them," Utah State forward Tai Wesley said, "before they could get up a three."

Thomas missed the first free throw, Tyler Newbold soared for a rebound and, after hitting a pair of free throws, Utah State escaped with the win.

Barely.

"I think the pressure affected us a little," Wesley said. "They got some turnovers and easy baskets."

And gave a serious scare to what was a loud and very present Utah State cheering section.

Quayle, who had a rough first half with only three points, finished with a team-high 14 and nine rebounds.

Wesley, just two points in the first half, caught fire early in the second to finish with 13 points and six assists while Newbold added 11 points and Pooh Williams chipped in 10.

The Aggies will try to stay in first place Saturday when they visit the high-scoring San Jose State Spartans.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com