Given the Utah State football team's history of mediocrity, normally when November rolls around Aggie fans have long forgotten the grid-iron and with good reason focused their sports obsession on the basketball court. Saturday's sporting events had a considerably different feel. With the possibility of the first bowl berth in 14 years, most eyes in Cache Valley were on the 2OT thriller going on in Moscow, and not the impending home basketball game. Whether fans were ready or not, Southern Utah had braved the cold and came ready to play in Logan.
Returning to the raucous confines of their home arena after playing less than stellar basketball against Weber State, the Aggies were expected by many fans to learn from their mistakes, start strong, and steamroll Southern Utah Saturday night. However, the Thunderbirds never got that memo.
If you haven't seen Utah State play a home game either in person, on TV, or via #pixelvision, then you may be unaware of the difficulty opposing teams face when they enter The Spectrum. USU has a 195-13 home record under Head Coach Stew Morrill, with only one home loss in the last four years. A myriad of factors go into these amazing home court stats, but the fact remains, 94% of the teams that visit USU at home end up losing. Apparently the Thunderbirds didn't appear to have gotten this memo either.
They knew that out of any year in the past several, a breakthrough road win in The Spectrum was completely plausible. With few returning players that have played in an Aggie uniform, USU's team is young, raw and trying to find their way in a tough offensive scheme. A well-coached, athletic and mentally tough team can certainly pull off the upset, and it appeared Southern Utah would be that team.
Fueled by Jackson Stevenett with 19 points and Matt Massey's 16 points, SUU looked to play spoiler. The Thunderbirds started strong and put the pressure on the Aggies right from the start. Early in the game senior forward and energizer bunny Brady Jardine went down with a foot injury and never returned to the game. Rumors flew that the foot was likely broken and summarily that the end of the world was coming. Without a vocal leader on the floor, the Aggies looked disjointed as many young players tried to fill Jardine's minutes. SUU led 28-25 after 20 minutes.
The Thunderbirds continued to assert themselves with aggressive play and great zone defense, building their lead to seven early in the second half. Finally something clicked in the Aggie offense and the home team went on several runs to take the lead and go ahead by nine points. These spurts were led by a group of Aggie newcomers, Jordan Stone, Kyisean Reed and Steven Thornton.
During the runs, the #omgdunx play of the game came from Thornton on a rebound dunk which ignited the crowd and landed as Sportscenter's 8th top play of the night.
Despite the USU run, SUU would not back down and got back to within one point with 31 seconds left. A controversial flagrant foul (it was a bad call) on a break-away play sent Morgan Grimm to the line where he calmly made two free throws, something the Aggies couldn't seem do all night (14-20).
In the final seconds the Thunderbirds had a chance to send the game to overtime with Wade Collie's clean look from three, but it fell short. Hordes of the Aggie faithful screamed in delight, but many more breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the final buzzer sounded. The second sigh of relief came today when Brady Jardine's diagnosis came back as a foot sprain and likely not a season-ending injury.
SUU appears to be a legit contender in the Summit League as long as they don't get run down by grueling travel schedule. I imagine they'll definitely enjoy the move to The Big Sky next year
A lot of Aggie players had to grow up in Saturday's contest and will have to continue stepping up in Jardine's absence. Football will be over soon and the full attention of Aggie fans everywhere will be on these new guys.
at UTAH STATE 65, SOUTHERN UTAH 62 11/19/2011
SOUTHERN UTAH 3-2 (0-0) -- R. Jones Jr. 1-7 1-2 4; J. Stevenett 6-11 5-7 19; M. Massey 6-8 3-4 16; R. Taylor 3-8 3-4 9; W. Collie 4-10 0-1 10; D. Heuir 0-1 2-2 2; J. Johnson 1-1 0-0 2; J. Jeffery 0-1 0-0 0; C. Nsenki 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 14-20 62. UTAH STATE 2-1 (0-0) -- P. Medlin 3-8 2-4 9; B. Pane 5-16 1-2 11; M. Grim 3-5 2-2 8; K. Reed 5-7 3-9 13; S. Thornton 5-8 1-1 13; M. Bruneel 1-3 2-2 4; B. Clifford 0-1 0-1 0; J. Stone 2-3 1-3 5; A. Thoseby 0-1 0-0 0; B. Jardine 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-54 12-24 65.
Three-point goals: SUU 6-13 (M. Massey 1-1; J. Stevenett 2-3; R. Jones, Jr. 1-4; W. Collie 2-5), USU 3-14 (B. Pane 0-3; P. Medlin 1-4; M. Bruneel 0-2; S. Thornton 2-4; A. Thoseby 0-1); Rebounds: SUU 26 (J. Stevenett 7), USU 35 (B. Clifford 6); Assists: SUU 17 (R. Jones, Jr. 8), USU 11 (B. Pane 4); Total Fouls -- SUU 22, USU 19; Fouled Out: SUU-R. Taylor; USU-M. Grim.