LOGAN — If there is one thing Utah State could count on to snap out of an early season slump, it was an in-state game at home. The Aggies, fresh off losses to BYU and Pacific over the past two weeks, blew the doors off Utah Valley in the first half and cruised to a 71-60 victory in the Spectrum.
Utah State has now won 29 straight home games against in-state opponents and is 31-1 under head coach Stew Morrill at home against teams from Utah.
The Aggies came out hot from the beginning, reeling off a 20-2 run in the opening minutes. USU shot nearly 60 percent in the opening 20 minutes, but the defense was the key to the early lead. Utah Valley scored only one field goal through the first 11 minutes, allowing the Aggies to easily build to a 46-23 halftime advantage. Senior guard Preston Medlin led the way with 15 first-half points on his way to a team-high 18 and attributed the quick start to better practices during the week.
“We played a lot harder in practice and a lot better in practice,” Medlin said. “I feel like that really helped us. That made us better for this game. That’s what translates over is practice.”
Morrill made two changes to his starting lineup from last week, going with Marcel Davis over TeNale Roland at point guard and reinserting Kyle Davis into the starting lineup after the sophomore missed the last game with a knee injury. Marcel Davis’ start was short lived as he was subbed out just over two minutes into the game and was taken to the locker room to get stitches in his lip.
“He didn’t get to enjoy his start very much,” Morrill said of Davis.
Marcel Davis was able to return and is not expected to miss any additional time. Kyle Davis scored 12 points and pulled in seven rebounds in his return.
USU came out strong to start the second half, pushing the advantage to as much as 28 before letting down in a sloppy final 10 minutes of basketball. Utah Valley, behind a game-high 21 points from Holton Hunsaker, finished the game on a 14-5 run to make the final score closer than the game appeared.
“I thought we played better tonight for three quarters of the game,” Morrill said. “When the game was on the line, we really played hard and guarded hard.”
After some defensive lapses in the previous two games, Morrill was much quicker with the hook for players caught making defensive mistakes. USU played 11 players in the first half and 13 overall, which Morrill called "too many" and acknowledged that he’s changed his philosophy on punishing mistakes to try to drill defense into his team.
“We will continue to do that until our defense gets better,” Morrill said. “Guys went back in and tried not to make those errors. … We got to get our defense better. We took a step forward in that area tonight.”
Utah Valley shot 17 of 42 for the game and made a living at the free-throw line, converting 22 of 30 attempts.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.