The Aggies weathered several storms of New Mexico State in winning 74-62 in Logan Saturday night.
Gary Wilkinson scored 18 points, Jaycee Carroll had 15, and Steve DuCharme did a nice job playing extra time in lieu of Tai Wesley's foul trouble to score 13.
The Aggies won this game with defense, rebounding and bench play. Utah State out-rebounded a team that usually out-rebounds its opponents by 6.6 boards per game. Further, New Mexico State shot just 35.2% from the field, including 8-30 from the 3-point line. Utah State had probably their best defensive effort of the season on Saturday.
It was refreshing to see the Aggies win without Carroll having to score over 20 points, a major problem for the team during last year's NIT-berth season. Carroll shot just 5-16, but with the way that others around him played on offense, it did not matter.
A player to step up his offensive production, besides Wilkinson and DuCharme, was backup point guard Desmond Stephens, who scored nine points on 3-4 shooting from the 3. Stephens hit his bombs during the middle-to-latter part of the second half, when the southern Aggies made it difficult for the northern Aggies to get the ball into the post. Stephens' shooting is an unsung key attribute to the win. The 5-9 player also had five rebounds.
Tyler Newbold did not play a great game, but had the comedic part of the night all to himself when he volleyball-spiked a long NMSU pass into the stands with 2.3 seconds left in the game. He can be forgiven of his performance just because the spike was so funny.
Tai, coming off a career-high 27-point game, was only able to play six minutes in the first half. Though he totaled 22 minutes for the game, the 21-year old freshman scored eight points and did well when he was in the game.
Wilkinson and DuCharme's play were huge keys. With Wesley out for extended periods of time, and Carroll not hitting his shots like normal (though he had seven rebounds), Stew Morrill needed those guys to have good games.
Perhaps another great unsung performance came from DeUndrae Spraggins, on the defensive end, for holding NMSU star Justin Hawkins, who was averaging 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, to just seven points and three boards. Though Spraggins hasn't contributed much on the offensive end this season, he has made up for it by playing great perimeter defense.
Finally, there's Kris Clark, who dished out eight assists and played a very solid game with just one turnover.
I would say that the Aggies played a 'B+' type game on Saturday, as opposed to a B- performance nine days earlier against Hawai'i in their WAC opener. They need to play just as well as they did two days ago on Thursday against Boise State (12-4, 3-1), who is much improved and possesses a talented forward in Reggie Larry, one of the five or six best players in the conference. It should be fun to see Carroll and Larry as the opposing teams' top players go at it on Thursday.