By Jeff Hunter
For the Deseret News
LOGAN — While everyone else wanted to celebrate Stew Morrill’s 400th victory at Utah State, the longtime head coach was simply glad that Saturday night’s game over Fresno State was over.
“I see why I’m retiring if they’re as tough as this one,” Morrill said after USU’s 85-79 victory over the Bulldogs at the Spectrum. “I mean, gosh, I don’t remember a tougher win in awhile.” Although Utah State (9-5 in the Mountain West, 16-10 overall) led for all but two-and-a-half minutes of the game, Fresno State (7-7, 12-1) would simply not let the Aggies get comfortably ahead.
Down 77-67 with three minutes to go, the feisty Bulldogs caused havoc with their full-court press and closed the gap to just three points with 1:20 left. But with the game potentially slipping away, USU point guard Darius Perkins drilled a 3-pointer from in front of the Aggie bench to put the home team ahead 81-75.
“It was another good pass from Jojo (McGlaston),” said Perkins, who led all shooters with five 3-pointers. “I was open. I didn’t put any pressure on myself hoping that it would go in, and it did. So, that was a good shot and a good pass, too.”
After going 0-for-3 with zero points in the first half, Perkins connected on 6-of-7 field-goal attempts in the second half on his way to 19 points. Freshman guard Julion Pearre also totaled 19 points for the Aggies, who shot 64 percent from the field in the second half and 53.7 percent for the game.
In USU’s 61-52 loss at Fresno State on Jan. 7, Pearre and Perkins combined for just one 3-pointer and nine points.
“Tonight was a little different,” said Pearre, who went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the rematch. “We were able to get some open looks, and we knocked some shots down. A lot of people made a lot of good plays to allow us to be able to score."
Freshman forward David Collette (16 points, six rebounds) and sophomore forward Jalen Moore (11 points, eight rebounds) also reached double figures for the Aggies, who have now won four straight games.
While USU’s second-leading scorer, Chris Smith (six points), had a quiet game, center Elston Jones and McGlaston both contributed seven points off the bench. McGlaston also ended up with six assists and two blocks in just 20 minutes.
“I thought Jojo was really good off the bench; maybe his best night in awhile,” Morrill said.
The Bulldogs, who wore black-and-white “TARK” patches to honor former head coach and alum Jerry Tarkanian, shot 49.1 percent from the field, and also ended up with four scorers in double figures, including junior guards Julien Lewis (21 points) and Marvelle Harris (17 points).
“I thought we fought at a hard level tonight, but we couldn’t get meaningful stops when we had to get those,” FSU head coach Rodney Terry said.
Before hurting his left thumb three minutes into the second half and going very quiet offensively, Moore scored nine of USU’s first 13 points of the game as the Aggies managed to pull away by as many as eight points in the first half.
The Bulldogs kept battling, though, and after going into halftime trailing 34-30, the guests got back to within two points early in the second half. But a 9-1 spurt courtesy of two 3-pointers by Perkins and another by Pearre quickly rebuilt USU’s advantage, and the Aggies ended up taking their biggest lead of the game at 63-51 on a 3-point play by Collette with 9:10 remaining.
“We had to play well offensively to win, because we had a hard time getting them stopped,” Morrill said.
Afterwards, Morrill, who announced last month that he will retire at the end of the season after 17 years at Utah State and 29 as a head coach, didn’t have much to say about reaching another career milestone.
“I don’t really know what to say about that,” Morrill said. “It means I’m old, I guess. I’ve been doing it a long time.”
Already the winningest coach in school history, Morrill is now 175 victories ahead of the next closest coach, E. Lowell Romney, who guided the Aggies from 1920-41.