Aggies down the Dons
Aggies down the Dons

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There was a brief moment in Utah State/s game against San Francisco Monday night when one couldn/t help but wonder if the Aggies were about to allow another big, second-half comeback.

After being doubled up at halftime (38-19), the Dons pulled to within 14 points on a 3-pointer by Alvin Broussard with 16 minutes to go and appeared to have the momentum with them.

But unlike last week/s near loss to Brigham Young, the Aggies made a stand before things got out of hand.

The hosts scored 10 of the next 13 points to right the ship, then poured it on down the stretch on their way to a 74-48 victory in the second game of the 10th annual Gossner Foods Classic.

"I was encouraged coming off the Christmas break," USU head coach Stew Morrill declared. "After only a couple days of practice, we came out and executed pretty well and played hard.

"We had a lot of guys contribute off the bench, and they brought a lot of energy. All of those things are encouraging."

Utah State (7-1) will face former Big West and future Western Athletic Conference rival New Mexico State in the championship game of the Classic today at 8:05 p.m.

The New Mags (6-4) beat UT-San Antonio, 62-53, in Monday/s early game. The Roadrunners (4-7) and Dons (8-6) will play in the consolation game at 5:30 p.m.

With Monday/s victory, the Aggies improved to 19-0 all-time in the Classic, and the tourney hosts have now won 26 straight home games in the month of December.

Junior forward Spencer Nelson led the way against San Francisco, going 7-of-8 from the field and 5-of-6 from free-throw line on his way to a season-high 20 points in just 26 minutes.

Although Nelson was the only Aggie to reach double figures, 11 different players scored as USU shot 55.8 percent from floor and racked up 21 assists against a season-low nine turnovers.

"This team should get in single digits in turnovers once in a while," Morrill said. "We have a good passing team. Seeing single-digit turnovers is something that we have been looking for, and it was nice to see."

Playing in front of 6,806 hearty fans, the Aggies took control of the game early thanks to some unselfish basketball.

On USU/s first two possessions, the Dons chose to double center Mike Ahmad in the post, and Ahmad passed off to the open man both times. Nelson laid the first pass in for a score, and Jason Williams knocked down a 3-pointer after the second one.

Two more Aggie assists led to a driving layup for Brown and an alley-oop slam for Cardell Butler, and Utah State found itself up 10-3 less than two-and-half-minutes into the game.

While the Aggies continued to pass (12 assists, just three turnovers) and shoot (57.7 percent) well, the Dons struggled to get anything to fall (34.8 percent from the field, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range).

Utah State led by 15 points on four occasions, then thanks in a large part to its three-quarter-court pressure and zone defenses, the hosts took a 38-19 lead into the locker room.

While it certainly seemed that all was well for the Aggies, the lingering memory of the 26-point halftime lead against BYU on Dec. 23 that ended up as a two-point victory was hard to shake.

"Definitely," Nelson said when asked if the game against the Cougars was discussed at halftime. "It was pretty much the same situation. … But it/s great when the last game that you actually won is a good learning experience.

"At the BYU halftime, we talked about coming out with intensity. But tonight, everyone got in the locker room and said, /Let/s not talk. Let/s just do it./"

San Francisco opened the second half with a 12-7 run, but immediately after Broussard/s 3-pointer fell through the rim, Brown countered with a 3-pointer of his own. Then, following a long defensive rebound, Brown pulled up at the 3-point line as if to shoot, but fired a two-handed pass into a streaking Nelson for an easy bucket.

A tip-in by Nate Harris and a 3-pointer by Quenton Harvey soon followed, and the Aggies found themselves up by 21 points with 13 minutes to go. Utah State never led by fewer than 17 points the rest of the game even though Morrill cleared his bench over the final four minutes.

Lesser-used players like Chad Evans (seven points in 15 minutes) and John Neil (two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes) made solid contributions, and walk-on guard Tyler Williams knocked down a 3-pointer for his first field goal as an Aggie.

"Ty Williams hitting a 3-pointer, that was the highlight of the game for me," Nelson declared.

The Dons got 14 points from Dommanic Ingerson, but the visitors shot just 38.5 percent as a team and went 4-for-20 from 3-point range.

New Mexico State 62, UT-San Antonio 53

Seven-and-a-half minutes into the opening game of the Gossner Classic, the New Mags had exactly one point to show for their appearance.

"It was a sloppy basketball game," NMSU head coach Lou Henson declared. "We turned the ball over 21 times, and we just didn/t take care of the ball."

Fortunately for the New Mags, they found a way to shut down the Roadrunners over the last 10 minutes while earning trip after trip to the free-throw line.

Down 28-25 at halftime and 42-34 with 11:35 to go, New Mexico State put together a 13-4 run to take its first lead of the game at 47-46 with 6:41 left. The New Mags also closed out the final five minutes with an 11-3 spurt powered by nine free throws.

"We haven/t had any close games this year; this is the first close game we/ve had," Henson said. "We did a pretty good job down the stretch playing defense and scoring. We made free throws down the stretch when we had to."

Junior guard Detrius Roberson scored nine of his game-high 15 points in the second half to lead the New Mags/ comeback, while guard Duane John (13 points, nine rebounds) and forward James Moore (10 points, seven rebounds) also reached double figures for New Mexico State.

After missing their first six shots from the field, the New Mags ended up shooting 44.6 percent for the game. The Roadrunners, meanwhile, shot just 33.9 percent and no UTSA starter had more than eight points.

Sammie Cole and John Millsap each came off the bench to score 13 points, but forward Leroy Hurd, UTSA/s leading scorer coming into the game at 18.5 points per outing, knocked down just 1-of-13 field-goal attempts and finished with six points.

"We just couldn/t throw the ball in the basket the last six minutes of the game," UTSA head coach Tim Carter said. "That was the ballgame. They really competed, and we didn/t match their intensity the last six minutes of the game."

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