LAS VEGAS — Going into Utah State’s Mountain West Conference tournament first-round matchup against Colorado State on Wednesday, Aggie guard Julion Pearre had made six 3-pointers in a season shortened by injury.
Just when No. 7 seed Utah State needed someone to help end the team’s 1-of-11 shooting slump to start the game against the No. 10-seeded Rams, though, the Aggie senior came up big.
Pearre made four first-half 3-pointers and, along with Koby McEwen, helped Utah State shoot 9 of 13 to end the first half after the early slump. The Aggies crept back into the game after trailing by as many as 15 points, then pulled ahead in the second half of a 76-65 USU win.
“He was great. We needed it, especially because a lot of us couldn't seem to make a basket," McEwen said of Pearre. "He came in and hit those threes. Those are big threes. He kept us in the game, really."
Highlights from Game 2 of the 2018 @MountainWest Men’s Basketball Tournament as No. 7 @USUBasketball defeats No. 10 @CSUMensBball, 76-65 #MWMadness https://t.co/AYX2LlyNu9 @MW_MBB pic.twitter.com/TZFwOEGFzH— Mountain West (@MountainWest) March 8, 2018
It was a fitting moment for Pearre, one of two Aggie seniors who made his fourth start of the year yet hasn’t played in 17 games this season due to injury.
"I'm proud of Julion, I'm happy for him. We needed that really bad," McEwen said.
Pearre's only miss of the game came at the first-half buzzer when he was errant on a fadeaway 3-pointer with a hand in his face that would have given USU a one-point lead heading into the half.
Utah State coach Tim Duryea said he knew the Aggies would need some help beyond McEwen and Sam Merrill, both third-team all-Mountain West honorees, to step up and make some shots against the Rams, given the way they defend Utah State.
“They do their best to take Koby and Sam out of the game,” Duryea said of Colorado State. "When they do that it opens up some things for other people, guys like Dwayne Brown Jr., Daron Henson, Diogo Brito, Julion Pearre.
"... And Julion popped open a few times, which is kind of the look that they're going to give us. And he capitalized. (That) kind of moved the chains for us a couple of times when we didn't have much going."
PERFECT IN THE FIRST ROUND: With the win over Colorado State, the Aggies stayed perfect (4-0) in the first round of the MWC tournament since joining the conference in the 2013-14 season. That included a win over Colorado State (73-69) in 2014, followed by first-round victories over Wyoming (88-70) and San Jose State (90-64) in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
LOOKING TO BREAK THE QUARTERFINAL HEX: Conversely, the Aggies have never won a quarterfinal game since joining the Mountain West. They’ve lost to San Diego State twice in the quarterfinals, in 2014 and 2016, as well as to Nevada last year. In 2015, the lone time Utah State earned a first-round bye, the Aggies lost 67-65 to Wyoming in the quarterfinals.
Wednesday’s victory sets up a date with No. 2 seed Boise State. The Aggies went 1-1 against the Broncos during the regular season, including a close loss in Boise and a close win in Logan.
"I think we play a similar style, maybe (that) explains it as good as anything," Duryea's said of the Aggies playing Boise State tough this year. "It's not like one team is a power basketball team, the other team is a finesse team.
"They're up-tempo, we try to be up-tempo. They're a little better at that than we are, a little deeper."