Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Recap: Utah State 66, Northwestern State 63
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan, Utah
Utah State was staring into a mirror, the word NIT seemingly scribbled in red crayon.
For that would have been the Aggies’ fate had they lost their BracketBuster matchup with Northwestern State and failed to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Despite the ominous situation, Utah State rallied behind their star player and iced the game with perfection at the free-throw line down the stretch. With the Aggies’ victory, you can be certain the Selection Committee still has Utah State on its radar.
The Aggies trailed by 13 points at halftime and looked like they might lose two straight home games for the first time since 1993 – a span of 199 games. Head coach Stew Morrill’s locker room speech ignited his team to the big comeback.
“I don’t know if we need to go into that,” Morrill told the Herald Journal, Logan’s local newspaper, when asked what exactly he said at halftime. “…If nothing else, we needed to come out in the second half
and play Aggie basketball. It looked like we were inept in the first half, and that is a credit to them.”
Nate Harris led the way for the Aggies (18-6) with a 27-point, 12-rebound performance – his fifth double-double this season – on 10-for-15 shooting from the field. He scored 19 of his points in the second half and dished out a pair of assists. Jaycee Carroll added 19 points and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, including four key makes in the final minute.
The Demons (18-7) got 20 points from Clifton Lee and 12 from Jermaine Wallace – both above their respective season averages – but it wasn’t enough in a hostile environment that played a big part in Utah State’s come-from-behind win.
“I think this is a great place to play,” Northwestern State head coach Mike McConathy told the Herald Journal. “They have a great team and did a great job coaching. I thought they executed excellent in the
Utah State quickly erased the 34-21 halftime deficit, scoring the first nine points of the second half. But the Demons fended off the Aggies’ first surge, pushing the advantage back to 11 at 49-38 with
10:25 to play. Then came push No. 2. Utah State tightened the defense and blanked Northwestern State over the next 2:36. In that span, the Aggies scored 11 straight points to knot the score at 49.
“We talked about coming out in the second half and competing and slowing down and executing,” said Morrill, whose team held Northwestern State to just nine field goals in the final 20 minutes. “…There is not a 15-point possession.”
Northwestern State again pulled ahead, leading 58-52 with just under five minutes to play. Aggies forward Chaz Spicer drained a free throw that capped a 10-3 run which gave Utah State a 62-61 lead – its first since early in the game. Northwestern State’s Tyronn Mitchell sunk a pair of foul shots with 57 seconds to play to give the Demons a 63-62. But those would be their final points.
Carroll was fouled on the Aggies next possession, making both free throws. With 11 seconds to play, Lee had a chance to put Northwestern State back ahead but he misfired on both free-throw attempts and then
Carroll drained another pair with 7 seconds to play to seal the game. Luke Rogers’ desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
“That was really a tale of two halves,” said Morrill, whose team shot 46.9 percent for the game and 57.7 percent in the second half. “They were so much the aggressor and had us totally out of sorts in the
first half. We turned it over a ton. We didn’t execute. They were more physical… We showed some courage in the second half. We came back and battled and took care of the ball. We played like we normally play, executed pretty well, made some shots and got ourselves back into it.”
The Aggies (No. 50 RPI, 138 SOS) might have gotten themselves closer to an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament as well. Despite bad losses at Middle Tennessee St, at Utah and at Fresno State, Utah State is still 3-0 against the other top teams in the WAC. The Aggies have swept Louisiana Tech and have a chance to sweep Nevada when the Wolfpack come to town this week.
On the other hand, Northwestern State (No. 70 RPI, 179 SOS) knows all these regular season games are just a tune-up for the Southland Conference Tournament. Winning the regular season league title is only
good for hanging a banner in the Demons’ arena. Winning the league tournament is the only way to get to the Big Dance.
In the end, this game was more important to Utah State and the Aggies’ furious second-half rally proved it.