Second half comeback falls short for Aggies
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 14:03
Utah State nearly crawled out of a 18-point hole after a sloppy first half but lost 83-78 to UT Arlington in the Orleans Arena.
The Aggies led 66-64 after sophomore forward Ben Clifford hit one of his four 3-pointers with 5:46 left in the game, their largest lead of the night.
The Mavericks answered every USU attempt to put the game away down the stretch.
Clifford hit from range again with 40 seconds left to cut the Arlington lead to two, but senior forward Kevin Butler was fouled shortly after the inbounds pass and drained both free throws to expand the lead to 81-78.
“It’s hard to say they mean really that much when the next time down the floor they get a big three, get a bucket,” Clifford said about his hot shooting.
Clifford threw the ball away on the next possession. Aggie guard Marcel Davis was forced to foul Arlington senior center Jordan Reeves, who missed both foul shots with 20 seconds left.
Junior point guard TeNale Roland took the ball up the court, but Butler picked his pocket and put the game out of reach with a layup to make it 83-78.
“We panicked a little bit,” said USU head coach Stew Morrill. “When there was more time and we could have done some things, we turned it over when the game was on the line.”
The quarterfinal matchup ended much like it began: Utah State turned the ball over twice in the final 23 seconds and nine times in the first half.
The Mavericks put USU down early, jumping out to an 18-point lead with 9:28 in the half.
UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross said his team’s 2-2-1 full court press was a difference maker in getting easy baskets from turnovers.
“Utah State, they fight, they claw,” Cross said. “They’ve had a tough road with all the injuries, but they they keep plugging away, keep battling.”
Utah State had two assists in the first half and couldn’t keep their hands on the ball: UT Arlington scored 17 points off 14 Aggie turnovers.
“We turned it over too much and obviously we had lots of chances,” Morrill said.
Arlington led 40-29 at halftime. Then the comeback began and the Aggies went on an 8-1 run to start the second half.
Aggie guard Spencer Butterfield was the life force of Utah State’s offense on either side of halftime. The junior was 5-6 from the field, including a score from beyond the arc to give the Aggies 14 points in the first half.
Butterfield finished with 19 points, shooting 6-9 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc to go with six rebounds.
The Aggies shot 58 percent from the field despite UT Arlington’s aggressive defense.
“Trust me, we were in the huddle complaining to our guys about it,” Cross said.
Jarred Shaw led the Aggies with nine rebounds and 20 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
“It was nerve-wracking as a coach,” Cross said. “Usually when you’ve led the entire game and then a team makes a run and the crowd gets involved and they’ve got great fans and students that are there cheering, I mean a lot of teams get down.”
Roland gave USU life in the first half, hitting two threes and finishing with 16 points and four rebounds. He also turned the ball over five times.
“A lot of times you look at stats and they don’t necessarily tell the story of the game,” Morrill said. “Tonight I think they really do.”
Butler scored a game-high 23 points and five rebounds for the Mavericks. Senior forward Karol Gruszecki hit four threes as part of his 17 points. Four UT Arlington players scored in double figures.
“It was just frustrating,” Butterfield said. “We were so close to just breaking it open and every time they would answer back. You’ve got to credit them for that.”