LOGAN — Basketball fans around the country aren’t necessarily going to be impressed by Utah State’s 17-point victory over a two-win Youngstown State team on its home court.
But then, few people are going to realize the adversity the Aggies were facing Wednesday night at the Spectrum with seemingly half the team injured and the other half sick.
“I’m proud of our guys for hanging in there and getting to the halfway point at 7-6,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said following USU’s 91-74 victory over the Penguins. “I can’t imagine that there’s anyone else in the country that has dealt with what we’ve dealt with in the first 13 games between travel and injuries and sickness and everything else.
“We’re a tired group mentally and physically. We need a break. Our guys will get two or three days off here, and we need that badly.”
The Aggies (7-6) closed out their non-conference schedule and headed into their Christmas break on a positive note thanks to a career-high 26 points from junior guard DeAngelo Isby, and a double-double from junior forward Quinn Taylor, who added a career-best four blocks to his 13-point, 10-rebound performance.
Taylor also logged a career-high 37 minutes, primarily thanks to a lack of other options in the frontcourt.
Freshman forward Klay Stall is still out with back issues, along with senior forward Alex Dargenton, who is dealing with a badly sprained ankle. Forward Daron Henson tried to play in the second half after spraining his knee and twisting his knee against Life Pacific last Saturday, but the freshman lasted just two minutes before having to leave the game.
In addition, sophomore guards Koby McEwen and Diogo Brito, and senior guard Julion Pearre have all been dealing with different illnesses the past week.
Hampered by fouls and sickness the entire game, McEwen went 2 for 5 from the floor and scored seven points before fouling out after 19 minutes. Pearre played just eight minutes and scored one point, while Brito logged 28 minutes and finished with nine points.
“We’ve got a lot of tough-minded guys,” Isby said. “We’re going through a lot this season, but we just have to keep playing. It’s next man up.”
Junior forward Dwayne Brown Jr. (16 points, five rebounds) and sophomore guard Sam Merrill (18 points, six assists) also came up big for the Aggies. Merrill went 0 for 3 from 3-point range but finished 6 of 7 from inside the arc and 6 for 7 from the free-throw line despite battling an injury to his right (shooting) wrist.
“He’s got the thing taped so tight that he can almost not shoot the ball from 3-point range, it alters his release,” Duryea said of Merrill, who even played some power forward Wednesday night due to USU’s lack of big men.
“He had some good looks early, but it’s almost like he’s fighting the tape to shoot the ball. That’s no way to have to play, but he’s toughing it out and figured out a way to contribute. He passed it well and guarded well, and thank goodness he’s on our side.”
As a team, the Aggies shot 59.6 percent the field and rebounded mightily after halftime from the free-throw line. After going just 8 for 17 in the first half, Utah State connected on 15 of 18 attempts in the second half.
Utah State actually trailed by as many as eight points early in the contest thanks to the hot hand of senior guard Cameron Morse, who finished with a team-high 23 points. But the Aggies closed out the first half strong and took a 41-34 lead into halftime, and the home team held onto the lead in the second half, despite letting the Penguins (2-10) get back to within a point on two occasions.
But after pulling to within 63-62 with 8:48 to go, the Aggies got two free throws from Brown and a 3-pointer from Isby to trigger a 28-12 run to close out the game.
“DeAngelo Isby came in and scored the ball off the bench. He's becoming quite proficient doing that,” Duryea said of Isby, who went 9 for 13 from the field, 3 for 6 from 3-point range and 5 for 7 from the free-throw line.
“… Both halves he kind of stemmed the tide a couple of times, and that was really key.”
Youngstown State, which pressed the Aggies the majority of the game, forced 11 turnovers but committed 14 of its own. The Penguins outrebounded USU, 36-29, but shot just 42.4 percent as a team and knocked down only 2 of 11 3-point attempts in the second half after going 6 for 12 in the first half.
The Aggies will return to action on Dec. 27 when they open Mountain West Conference play by hosting San Jose State at the Spectrum.