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Utah State men’s basketball: Bearded Preston Medlin carries Aggies over San Jose State

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LOGAN — On a night in the Spectrum when Aggie students organized a “beardout” in honor of Preston Medlin’s facial hair, the USU junior guard gave opponents just one more reason to fear the beard.

Medlin — facial hair and all — finished with a new season high of 25 points to help Utah State hold off San Jose State, 66-60, on Friday night.

The Spartans (9-7, 3-2) hung tough throughout after suffering two big blows before the game even tipped off. Starters James Kinney and Louis Garret did not suit up for SJSU after being suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Kinney came into the game leading the conference in scoring at 20.6 per game. Garret, a St. George, Utah, native and Salt Lake Community College transfer, missed his first chance to play in his home state after transferring to San Jose State this season.

“I thought San Jose responded really well for not having a couple of their better players,” Utah State head coach Stew Morrill said. “Their guys rallied together, played really hard and gave them a chance.”

San Jose State sorely missed Kinney’s scoring punch, though. Point guard LaVanne Pennington replaced Kinney in the starting lineup, but did not score on nine shot attempts. The Spartans as a team shot just 35.9 percent for the game.

To make up for the lack of offense, SJSU ratcheted up its defense. The Spartans were aggressive on the ball, forcing an uncharacteristic nine first-half turnovers from the Aggies (14-1, 5-0), leading to 10 Spartan points before the break.

“They did a good job of getting into us and trying to take us out of our plays,” Medlin said. “In the first half we had too many turnovers, which is not what we want. We came in and adjusted a little bit and did a lot better in the second half taking care of the ball.”

The adjustments at halftime led to just four Aggie turnovers in the second half. With better ball control, USU never relinquished its lead in the second half.

“We knew that if we wanted to win this game we have to come out and play physical defense and play physical offense and run our plays better,” Medlin said.

Medlin carried the Aggies offensively down the stretch, scoring 16 of his 25 in the second half. The WAC Preseason Player of the Year has slowly become the scoring threat that most imagined before the season. After a relatively quiet start to the year, Medlin has now scored at least 20 points in 5 of his last 7 contests.

“I guess my shots are just falling,” Medlin said. “I’ve been taking smarter looks and my teammates are doing really well in getting me open.”

Utah State has now won 12 straight games. Next week, it will face a challenge on the road to keep that winning streak alive. The Aggies travel to New Mexico State and Denver, two of the WAC’s best teams, next Thursday and Saturday.

Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.