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USU basketball: Aggies suffer 'horrible loss' in bid to upset Fresno State

LOGAN — While Fresno State already wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament prior to the start of Saturday night's game at Utah State, the Mountain West Player of the Year award is still up for the grabs until early next week.

You can bet that Marvelle Harris will get the Aggies' vote.

The Bulldogs' senior guard scored 34 points and was spectacular down the stretch, helping Fresno State pull off an 86-85 victory at the Spectrum.

"He had a really good season and helped Fresno win a lot of games," USU forward Jalen Moore said of Harris. "You saw it tonight. He's a really good player, and he does that to a lot of teams, not just us."

The Aggies (7-11 in the Mountain West, 15-14 overall) led by as many as 18 points in the first half and were up 42-33 at halftime. But the Bulldogs (13-5, 22-9) rallied in the second half behind Harris, who went 12 of 23 from the field and 8 of 11 from the free-throw line with six rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.

"He's a great player, a great guy and just a load to try and guard," USU guard Chris Smith said of Harris.

After the game, first-year head coach Tim Duryea gave Harris credit for his performance but made it very clear that he was also "extremely, extremely disappointed" with his team. In USU's two losses to Fresno State this season, the Aggies committed a total of 32 turnovers and the Bulldogs outscored them 45-5 in points off of turnovers.

"It was just an extremely poor performance by everyone on our team, mentally and physically," Duryea declared. "When you talk about losing a basketball game, the first thing you have to do is not beat yourself, and we beat ourselves in every possible way imaginable.

"It was an extremely poor execution of the game plan. Extremely poor taking care of the ball. And extremely poor defense, especially in the second half."

The loss to the Bulldogs leaves the Aggies as the No. 9 seed in next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. Utah State will play No. 8 Wyoming (7-11, 14-17) at noon MST Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Cowboys won the only meeting between the two teams this year, 84-65, on Feb. 6 in Laramie. Wyoming went 20 for 38 from 3-point range in the rout.

"We shouldn't let them make 20 threes on us, so we've got to play better defense against them," Moore said of the Cowboys.

On Senior Night at the Spectrum, the Aggies honored guards Chris Smith, Darius Perkins and Trace Cureton and forward Grayson Moore prior to the start of the game. Cureton made the first start of his career before leaving after six minutes, while Grayson Moore, who was thought to be out for the season with a foot injury, got the start, but was removed four seconds in after Duryea called a timeout.

Both junior college transfers, Smith ended up scoring 18 points in his final home game, while Perkins had seven points. Jalen Moore led USU with 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting, and sophomore guard Julion Pearre added 16 points for the Aggies, who shot 45.8 from the field and 3-point range.

The Bulldogs, who shot 38.7 percent in the first half and 63.3 percent in the second half, got 12 points each from forwards Karachi Edo and Cullen Russo and guard Julien Lewis, while Jahmel Taylor went 3 for 3 from 3-point range — all of them crucial baskets during Fresno State's comeback from an 18-point deficit.

"We didn't guard Taylor correctly when we were up by 18, and he makes two threes and all of a sudden they have a little life, a little momentum," Duryea said. "And from there we could just never totally grab a hold of it again."

Despite letting the Bulldogs tie the game at 64-64 with 6:33 to go and then quickly falling behind by three points, the Aggies rallied back behind key baskets from Smith and Moore and held an 83-80 lead when Quinn Taylor buried a baseline jumper with 1:02 left.

Harris countered with a couple of free throws, then Perkins had his shot attempt blocked by Russo, which led to two more successful free throws by Harris when Smith, much to Duryea's chagrin, fouled Fresno's superstar guard with 20 seconds to go. With the Aggies down by one, Pearre tried to drive into the lane but lost control of the ball due to contact from Russo. No foul was called, leading to a turnover and two more made free throws by Lewis to stake the Bulldogs to an 86-83 advantage.

Utah State had no timeouts left and just over five seconds to work with, but Smith managed to connect with Moore on a long pass. Off balance right in front of the Aggie bench, Moore's shot attempt was well short, but Lewis was called for a foul, giving USU a chance to tie with 3.8 seconds left. Moore managed to get the first two free throw attempts to fall, but after a Fresno State timeout, his third shot hit the front of the rim and ended up in the hands of Harris.

"That's a tough spot to be in when you have to make three to tie," Duryea noted. "But it should not have come down to that. It should not have even come close to down to that."

Although Harris ended up missing his final two free throws of the night, Moore's long outlet pass to Pearre after the second miss was too long and the Aggies never got off a last-second shot.

"This game goes to the top of the list as far as frustrating losses this season," Duryea said. "That is beyond belief. I'm still trying to digest that it really happened, to be honest with you, because that is a horrible, horrible loss."