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Utah State basketball: Aggies battle 24th ranked Nevada to the end in 93-87 loss

LOGAN — Utah State got a career-high 32 points from Koby McEwen and scored 30 more points than they did in last month’s loss at Reno, but it still wasn’t enough to knock off the 24th-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday night at the Spectrum.

“I tip my hat to Nevada. They were tremendous. That's as hard a team to defend as I've seen come through here in a long time,” Aggie head coach Tim Duryea said after Nevada’s 93-87 victory. “Our guys, effort-wise, were good on the defensive end. We did a lot of really good things, but they made tough shot after tough shot after tough shot.”

Three players accounted for 73 of Nevada’s 93 points. Junior forward Cody Martin scored a career-best 30 points, while his twin brother, Caleb Martin, added 23 points against the Aggies (14-14 overall, 7-8 in the Mountain West). And, after scoring just points in the first half, junior swingman Jordan Caroline finished with 20 points for the Wolf Pack (23-5, 12-2).

The Martins, who both transferred to Nevada from North Carolina State, kept knocking down well-defended shot attempts, particularly late in the first half when a 17-0 run gave the Wolf Pack the lead for a good.

“That’s a great team that we just played,” McEwen declared. “They made a lot of tough shots, down the stretch especially. If you look at the numbers defensively, they shot a great percentage, but our team played pretty good defense. They made a lot of shots over hands, and when that happens, you’ve just got to shake their hand because they made a lot of tough shots, and it’s hard to defend tough shots that they make.“

Nevada ended up shooting 59.3 percent from the floor and were 11 for 21 from 3-point range, helping Eric Musselman’s team stay out in front despite having only seven scholarship players available following an Achilles injury to starting guard Lindsey Drew earlier in the week.

But the Aggies, who lost at Nevada, 83-57, on Jan. 13, weren’t bad offensively themselves, shooting 46.8 percent from the field. They could have been better from 3-point range (10 for 33), but the home team committed just five turnovers Saturday after turning the ball over 23 times during Wednesday’s loss at New Mexico.

“We had two offensive fouls, one of them very questionable, and five turnovers total. So that tells you we were making a lot of really good plays,” Duryea noted. “We were putting pressure on the rim, we were creating open threes and would've liked to have knocked a few more of those down. That's probably the one thing where if I look at the stat sheet; 10-for-33 for us is not quite good enough from the 3-point line."

McEwen led the late charge that saw Utah State close its second-half deficit from as many as 14 points to as few as four points in the final minute. But each time the Wolf Pack missed a free throw to leave the door open just a little bit, the Aggies failed to take advantage with a made shot or free throw at the other end of the court that would have pulled the home team to within a single possession of the lead.

“We put up 87, and most nights you’re going to win,” USU sophomore guard Sam Merrill said. “But they made more shots than us, and that’s how it went tonight. You’ve got to give credit to them.”

McEwen ended up 10 for 20 from the field and 3 for 11 from 3-point range while playing all 40 minutes. Merrill also played the entire game, finishing 5 for 12 from the floor and 4 of 9 from long range on his way to 16 points. Junior forward Quinn Taylor added 11 points and five rebounds, while junior guard DeAngelo Isby came off the bench to score 10 points.

The Aggies came out hot against Nevada, taking a quick 10-3 lead and twice building an advantage of as many as eight points early in the game. But after McEwen put USU up 37-30 with a 3-pointer with 7:34 to go, Utah State suddenly went in an offensive funk, missing 12 of its next 13 shots while being outscored 22-3 the remainder of the half.

But, with the Aggies trailing 52-40 at halftime, the USU band played a rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before the teams resumed play, and Caroline seemed to respond by asserting himself back into the Wolf Pack’s offense. After taking just three shots in the first half, Nevada’s second-leading scorer went 6 for 9 in the second half to take give Nevada a tough, 1-2 punch when combined with Cody Martin, who ended up making 13 of 18 shots on the night.

“Obviously, the job that (Cody Martin) did playing the point tonight was phenomenal, scoring the ball and his defensive rebounds were huge,” Musselman said.

Two 3-pointers my Cody Martin and Caroline left Nevada comfortably ahead by 12 points with three minutes to go, but behind McEwen’s determined play and some missed free throws by the Wolf Pack, the Aggies clawed their way back into the contest. The sophomore from Canada split his way through the Martin twins to throw down a dunk that closed the gap down to just 91-87 with 14 seconds remaining, but that would be as close as Utah State would get down the stretch.

“I’m proud of my team even though we lost,” McEwen said. “We played a really good team and fought to the end. I’m confident we’ll see them again (at the Mountain West Tournament), and we’ll perform even better. It’s just a great Nevada team."