With two of the next three regular season games on the road for San Jose State, the Spartans couldn’t capitalize on the second end of a two-game homestand Wednesday night as the Utah State Aggies cruised to a 81-75 victory.
The Spartans (15-12 overall, 7-8 Mountain West) came in looking for their fourth straight home victory after a come-from-behind thrilling overtime win over Air Force, while the Aggies (12-15, 6-10 MW) came into the contest looking for their first conference road win.
Utah State’s backcourt of Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill combined for 45 of the team’s 81 points to snap its conference road woes.
“We knew they could score the ball,” Spartans head coach Dave Wojcik said on the guards. “Unfortunately we didn’t do a great job on those guys; they made some tough shots and made some plays.”
McEwen, who finished with a game-high 23 points and hit 10-of-11 free throws, set the tone early for the Aggies as he scored or assisted on the team’s first 10 points which opened up a 10-2 lead.
The Spartans quickly responded after a timeout with 17:09 left behind a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to four, but Merrill, who added 23 points on 9-for-12 field goals, quickly ended the run with his second three-pointer of the first half.
The backcourt tandem for the Aggies managed to control the tempo throughout the game, and in the first half the starters for SJSU were outscored by Utah State’s starters, 43-22.
Spartans forward Brandon Clarke, who had six points on 3-for-6 shooting before halftime, saw double teams and at times triple teams which affected his rhythm early on before shaking off an apparent ankle injury late in the first half.
“I’ve had a nagging ankle… it’s just something I have to get through (and) it’s what the team needs,” Clarke said. “I wouldn’t say that that’s the reason why I was slower (in the second half), but I felt it.”
Clarke finished with his ninth double-double of the season with 12 points on 6-for-10 from the field and 10 rebounds, but didn’t attempt any free throws for just the second time this year.
SJSU dug itself in a 43-35 halftime hole, and just as they would knock down shots to trim the lead, Utah State responded.
Sophomore forward for the Spartans Ryan Welage, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half, thought the team battled back well in the second half but the team can’t afford to get in a hole that big in the first half “bottomline.”
SJSU stayed within 10 points for a majority of the second half as Utah State answered with baskets to extend its lead, but a late surge by the Spartans saw them down by five points in the waning minutes before the Aggies closed it at the free-throw line where they were 19-for-20 for the evening.
The Spartans will travel to No. 3 in the Mountain West standings, Boise State (17-9, 10-5 MW), on Saturday before returning home to face the conference’s top team Nevada (22-6, 11-4 MW) on March 1 at 7 p.m.