Western Athletic Conference leading LA Tech won its 17th-straight game overall and 15th-straight WAC game in improving to 25-3 overall and 15-0 in WAC play. USU had its three-game WAC road win streak halted with the loss, in falling to 19-8 overall and 9-6 in league play. LA Tech has won the last three meetings in the series, after USU had won the previous six, closing the Aggies' lead in the series to 14-5, including 5-3 at Ruston.
Sophomore forward Ben Clifford tied his career-high with 14 points and was matched by junior center Jarred Shaw, while junior guard TeNale Roland netted 12 points off the bench. Freshman guard Marcel Davis tallied eight points before fouling out, while junior guard/forward Spencer Butterfield notched seven before leaving the game with an injury. Clifford led USU on the boards with nine, while Shaw snared eight rebounds, helping USU to a 41-35 rebounding edge.
Brandon Gibson led LA Tech with 20 points, while Raheem Appleby added 15 points and Kenyon McNeail notched 10 points. Gibson drained four three-pointers, while Appleby and McNeail netted three apiece, as the Bulldogs made 11 treys on the night, tying the most allowed by USU to an opponent this season. The 84 points were also a season-high allowed by the USU defense.
Cordarious Johnson pulled down a team-high five rebounds, while Alex Hamilton dished out eight assists to go with nine points, as LA Tech had 10 different players score. USU only had nine players in uniform, as freshman guard Connor Garner saw first action as an Aggie due to the short USU bench with Butterfield out with an injury and Davis fouling out.
Utah State shot 20-of-56 (35.7 percent) from the field, including 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) at the free throw line and were 18-of-22 (81.8 percent) at the free throw line, the Aggies' eighth game shooting 80.0 percent or better at the charity stripe this season. LA Tech scorched the nets to the tune of 57.1 percent from the field in the first half, finishing the night at 50.0 percent (31-of-62) field goal shooting. The Bulldogs shot better behind the arc then inside, making 11-of-21 (52.4 percent) from distance, including 7-of-15 (46.7 percent) in the first 20 minutes and 4-of-6 (66.7 percent) in the second half. LA Tech was also 11-of-19 (57.9 percent) at the free throw line.
The Bulldogs scored the first six points of the game before Clifford hit USU's first bucket of the game with 16:06 on the clock. LA Tech later bolted out to a 17-4 lead after a layup by Alex Hamilton at the 10:50 mark. A three-pointer by Roland from the top of the arc pulled USU within, 17-7, at the 9:56 mark, but that would be the closest the Aggies would get in the first 20 minutes, as the Bulldogs went on an 18-7 spurt to open their first 20-point lead of the half at 35-14 with 5:16 on the first half clock. The Aggie deficit swelled to 47-18 at 1:35 on a trey by McNeail, dealing USU's largest deficit of the season up to that point. Gibson hit a putback jumper in the final second of the half for a 49-23 LA Tech lead at the break, dealing USU its largest halftime gap of the season.
USU whittled the deficit to 22 on two occasions in the first four minutes of the second half, first on a pair of Clifford free throws at 51-29 with 17:06 on the clock and against at 16:24 after a jumper by Shaw. However the Aggies couldn't get any closer and Gibson later drained another three-pointer for a 64-33 Bulldog lead with 13:57 to go for LA Tech's largest lead of the night and USU's biggest deficit this season at 31. Utah State again trimmed the margin to 22 at 78-56 at the 4:55 mark after a three-point play by Davis, but again couldn't get the gap to under 22. Sophomore center Matt Lopez and Clifford both hit a pair of free throws for USU's final scores.
In the Aggies' second game of the weekend and their final regular-season road game, they will head to Arlington, Texas to tangle with UT Arlington on Saturday, March 2, also tipping off at 6 p.m. (MT). Saturday's game will not be televised. UTA is broke away from a tie with USU for fourth-place in the WAC, improved to 10-5 in WAC play with an 81-74 win over San Jose State, moving to 16-10 overall.
After Saturday's game at UT Arlington, USU returns home for its final two regular-season games, hosting Texas State on Thursday, March 7 and UTSA on Saturday, March 9. Both games tip-off at 7 p.m. at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.