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Aggies grab fifth straight victory and secure winning record for the season

By Jeff Hunter

For the Deseret News

LOGAN — Their opponents are known as the Runnin’ Rebels. But when it mattered the most, it was the Aggies who put together the biggest and best runs Tuesday night at the Spectrum.

Down by three points at halftime, Utah State opened the second half with a 9-0 burst that put the hosts in front for the first time since the opening minute of the game. Then, after UNLV battled back to within two points, the Aggies put together a 17-2 run that all but secured an 83-65 victory.

“The difference in the game was we defended much better in the second half,” USU head coach Stew Morrill declared. “In fairness to them, they got worn down a little bit. But I like to think we had something to do with that.

“The first half we played really good offense, but we were down at halftime because we just couldn’t get any stops. … We played primarily man-to-man in the second half and defended much better, while continuing to play good offense. When you look at the percentages, our offense was good the whole night, and our defense was good in the second half, and that’s what allowed us to get a win.”

Tuesday’s victory was the fifth straight for Utah State (10-5 in the Mountain West, 17-10 overall), and secured a winning record for the Aggies in Morrill’s final season as a head coach. The win also improved USU’s all-time record against the Rebels to 4-30, and helped avenge a 79-77 overtime loss at UNLV on Jan. 24.

“That’s a tough place to play, and they stole it from us,” sophomore forward David Collette said of USU’s earlier loss. “We had a chance to finish ’em off and didn’t, so we owed them big time. And that’s what we did.”

Utah State junior guard Chris Smith went 7-for-11 from the field on his way to a game-high 20 points, while Collette (7-for-7 from the floor) and junior point guard Darius Perkins (6-for-10 from the field, 5-for-7 from 3-point range) both ended up with 17 points. Sophomore forward Jalen Moore finished with 16 points for the Aggies, who shot 54.4 percent from the field as a team.

Although the long and athletic Rebels (6-9, 15-13) are second in the Mountain West in field goal percentage defense at 39.2 percent, the Aggies compiled 24 assists while committing only 10 turnovers and went 11-of-20 from 3-point range.

“We’re playing pretty confidently now,” Morrill said of USU’s offense. “It’s good stuff for us.”

The Rebels, who lost leading scorer Rashad Vaughn to a knee injury two weeks ago, shot 48.5 percent in the first half, but just 32.3 percent in the second half. Freshman forward Dwayne Morgan and freshman guard Patrick McCaw both scored 13 points to pace UNLV, which has lost three of its four games without Vaughn in the lineup.

“I’m not making excuses; that’s not what we’re about,” UNLV head coach Dave Rice said. “But it was kind of a tale of two halves. In the first half, we had 10 assists, a good lead and I thought we did a good job of utilizing our bench. Then we came out in the second half, and we simply did not play well enough.

“I thought we had decent looks in the second half, but I thought we were rushed, and I thought we settled and didn’t play good enough offense to make Utah State play a longer period of time on the defensive end.”

The Aggies had all sorts of trouble stopping the Rebels in the first half, but USU’s offense was good enough to keep UNLV within range. Utah State trailed by as many as eight points — 33-25 with 4:32 to go after a 3-pointer by McCaw — but the Aggies quickly countered with a trey by Smith — and went on a 10-2 run.

Utah State tied the game for the eighth time at 35-35 when Jojo McGlaston stepped into a deep 3-pointer with 1:04, and that shot prompted Rice to call a timeout. The Rebels ended up getting a 3-pointer from the corner by Christian Wood to leave UNLV up 38-35 at halftime.

The Rebels’ advantage quickly disappeared in the second half, however, as Smith put up five quick points on a reverse layup and a 3-pointer. Less than 80 seconds into the half, Utah State was suddenly up 40-38 and the Aggies would never trail again.

While the hosts managed to maintain and even improve their impressive shooting numbers from the first half, the Rebels’ field goal percentage completely nose-dived with the exception of a brief, 9-0 spurt that trimmed an 11-point Aggie lead down to 55-53.

Collette finally stopped the bleeding for the Aggies with a score down low. Then, after Sean Harris corralled a defensive rebound, the senior fired the ball ahead to backup point guard Henry Bolton, who hit Collette in stride with a bounce pass that the former Murray High Spartan slammed home.

With the Spectrum crowd of 9,503 going wild, Rice, who spent the 2004-05 season as an assistant under Morrill, called a timeout with 8:51 to go. But Utah State would only pull further and further away, eventually leading by as many as 20 points.

“That was a dime from Henry, that’s all I can say. It was a great pass,” Collette said with a chuckle. “I probably taught him that from my passing skills, but I don’t know if he could finish the same way, so we traded right there.”