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Utah State ends five-game losing streak with upset of New Mexico

SHARE Utah State ends five-game losing streak with upset of New Mexico

LOGAN — Following five straight losses, the wolves were literally at Utah State's door Tuesday night.

But thanks to one of their most complete games of the season, the Aggies were able to knock off the Lobos 80-72 at the Spectrum.

"It's about time ... about time we got a win," USU senior guard Chris Smith declared. "We all played well. We played our hearts out on defense, rebounded hard and hit our free throws.

"We definitely needed this."

In danger of falling below .500 for the first time this year, the Aggies (4-8 in the Mountain West, 12-11 overall) put together a spirited first half in front of 9,290 fans eager to see a victory after five consecutive losses — USU's longest losing streak in two years.

The streak-breaker seemed unlikely to come against New Mexico (7-4, 14-10), winner of four of its last five games. The Lobos, who came into Tuesday in second place in the Mountain West standings, humbled the Aggies 77-59 on Jan. 9 in Albuquerque.

USU head coach Tim Duryea said that his team hit "rock bottom" in the first half of that contest, which saw the Aggies trail 43-18 at intermission. But in the first half of the rematch, Utah State shot 53.3 percent from the field, outrebounded New Mexico 19-14 and took a 40-32 lead into the locker room.

Disappointed with his team's defensive rebounding of late, Duryea shook up the starting lineup, inserting freshman Quinn Taylor at center, while starting junior Lew Evans at power forward and junior Jalen Moore at small forward. The bold move paid off handsomely as Taylor totaled eight points and 10 rebounds, while Evans finished with 15 points and six rebounds.

"That's the first time I've ever played the two," noted Smith, who scored a game-high 19 points. "We went a little bigger to help our rebounding situation and match up a little bit better with them.

"... Quinn just played phenomenal. He got 10 rebounds, and we really needed that to win."

Utah State ended up winning the rebounding battle, 33-31, while shooting 49 percent from the field and dropping in 9 of 25 3-point attempts.

The Lobos, who lead the league in field goal percentage, shot 45.8 percent from the floor and were 7 of 19 from long range. Sophomore guard Elijah Brown scored a game-high 22 points, while junior forward Tim Williams nearly matched him with 21 points and seven rebounds.

Down by as many as five points early on, the Aggies trailed for the final time at 20-19 then outscored UNM 21-12 over the final eight minutes of the first half. Utah State's leading scorer, Moore, didn't record a point for more than 19 minutes, but the former Sky View High star finally connected for a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to leave Utah State up 40-32 at halftime.

But as they've done numerous times this season, the Aggies came out of the locker room sluggish, and the Lobos took advantage and scored the first six points of the second half to trim the hosts' advantage to two.

"I told the coaches at halftime, you're going to see the quickest trigger ever if we don't get off to a good start," said Duryea, who called a timeout with 18:22 left.

Duryea credited senior point guard Darius Perkins with firing up his teammates and helping to right the ship during that timeout, and the Aggies responded by clamping down on the Lobos defensively and slowly rebuilding their lead and eventually extending it to as many as 11 points.

"Minutes and roles were a little bit different tonight, but I thought we responded very positively," Duryea said. "I'm very proud of this group. It's been a long three weeks for us."

The Aggies have a bye this weekend and won't play again until they host Colorado State and former USU head coach Larry Eustachy on Feb. 17.