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Awful free-throw shooting dooms the Aggies in loss to BYU

LOGAN — A year ago, it was all about the offensive rebounds.

The Aggies surrendered 23 of them to Brigham Young, an obvious reason the Cougars ended up winning that contest 77-63.

Haunted by that memory for the past year, USU head coach Tim Duryea made limiting Brigham Young’s offensive rebounds a major focus heading into Saturday night’s rematch at the Spectrum. And to the Aggies’ credit, they held the Cougars to a mere five offensive rebounds while pulling down 10 of their own.

But while that mission was accomplished, Utah State created a whole new statistic to haunt them another year.

“That was one of the more frustrating basketball games that I’ve ever been involved in,” Duryea said following BYU’s 75-66 win on the Aggies’ home floor. “You have objectives going into a game, and you look at a stat sheet after a game and you accomplished a lot of those objectives.

“… You make more field goals, you make more threes, you get twice as many offensive rebounds, but you just can’t make any free throws. That is really, really frustrating.”

Utah State’s effort from the free-throw line was stunningly awful. After going just 2 for 9 in the first half, the Aggies were just 5 of 17 from the charity stripe heading into the final three minutes. Down by double digits and the game all but out of reach, Utah State went on a relative roll, knocking down five of its final six free-throw attempts to finish 10 of 23 for the game — just 43.5 percent.

Conversely, the Cougars went a combined 24 for 28 from the free-throw line to help offset going just 5 for 18 from 3-point range, including a 0 for 10 effort in the first half.

Up by as many as eight points, the Aggies missed several point-blank attempts as well as free throws just before halftime and ended up trailing 28-24 at intermission. In the second half, the hosts shot 61.5 percent from the floor, but went just 2 of 10 from 3-point range while the Cougars regrouped to go 5 for 8 from beyond the arc.

“We missed layups and free throws and had too many turnovers in the first half,” USU guard Sam Merrill said. “We guarded so well in the first half that it gave us a chance to create a cushion, and we didn’t do it.”

Starting point guard Koby McEwen, who had played in only one of the previous five games after suffering a high-ankle sprain on Nov. 15, ended up playing 35 minutes and scoring a game-high 20 points. But while the sophomore went 5 of 9 from 3-point range, McEwen knocked down just 3 of 9 free throws and hit nothing but glass on one particular bad attempt.

“As a leader, it starts with me,” McEwen said. “I got to the free-throw line first. I shot the first couple and I didn’t make mine. We’ve just got to get better.”

In addition to McEwen, senior guard Julion Pearre started Saturday’s game and saw his first action after suffering a calf injury just prior to the start of the season. He ended up playing 17 minutes but didn’t score while committing three fouls.