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OREM — In Utah State’s three wins before Saturday night’s in-state clash at Utah Valley, the Aggies trailed at halftime and came back to knock off Weber State, Illinois State and South Dakota.
There seems little reason than to mess with a winning formula.
Jalen Moore had 14 points and seven rebounds, including the game-winning jumper from just inside the arc with 22 seconds remaining, as the Aggies moved rallied to top the Wolverines, 50-47, in front of 6,121 fans at the UCCUCenter in Orem.
“I was just trying to find a way to lift my team,” Moore said. “I hadn’t made a shot in forever, but Darius (Perkins) gets it to me, and I thought I hadn’t really made one in the game, gave it a fake and it happened to fall for me.”
After UVU freshman Marcel Davis tied the game at 45-45 with just under a minute left, Moore calmly stepped back into a jumper just inside the 3-point line on the right side and swished his shot to take a 47-45 lead with 22 seconds remaining.
If that wasn’t enough, the sophomore from Murray collected a steal on the Wolverines’ ensuing possession, then made one of two free throws after he was fouled in transition to put UtahState (4-4) up 48-45 with seven seconds left. The Aggies held on when Chris Smith slammed home the exclamation point in the waning seconds.
“We just needed to win this game,” said Moore, who shot 2-of-9 from the field in a game he and his head coach called "ugly."
He was really struggling, but you know he's not going anywhere. He's solid as a rock. I don't know if it's experience or just his maturity. (Moore) is even-keeled, he understands the game and he's not going to lose his confidence or get crazy out there.
–Utah State coach Stew Morrill on sophomore wing Jalen Moore
“We were on a four-game losing streak, so I was trying to get emotional and lock down on defense after I hit that jumper. I came up with a steal, went to the line and it gave us the lead back to 3, which was hard to come back for them.”
Smith added 13 points and three assists, including the only helper of the first half, for UtahState, which got a career-high 11 points from Julion Pearre in the freshman’s first collegiate start.
Once Moore, one of four returning players from last year’s team, stepped to the line in the final seconds, a large sigh of relief exhaled from the corner of the UCCUCenter that supported the team from Logan.
Call it experience-beyond-his-years for the sophomore wing, but UtahState coach Stew Morrill was relieved to see how one of his veterans handled that situation.
“He was really struggling, but you know he’s not going anywhere,” Morrill said. “He’s solid as a rock. I don’t know if it’s experience or just his maturity. (Moore) is even-keeled, he understands the game and he’s not going to lose his confidence or get crazy out there.”
Pearre topped his career mark with his five points in the first half, but UtahState trailed 23-17 after shooting a mere 20 percent from the field with only two 3-pointers and one assist.
“My teammates found me, and I could hit a couple of shots. We struggled, but coach came in and gave us a talk, and we got it going,” Pearre said. “It was good as my first start. Coach had the confidence to start me, and I just did what I could to bring energy. We wanted to come out in the second half, and get things going. That’s what I tried to do.”
The Aggies finished shooting only 29.8 percent from the field, but Pearre credited a renewed commitment to defense and stopping easy shots from UVU (3-6) for the win. UtahState brought its average up to 40 percent in the second half, including the final three shots in a game where both teams averaged below 30 percent from the field.
Every time UtahState came back into the game after halftime, UVU seemed to have an answer. Pearre tied the game at 32-all with a pair of free throws with 7:24 to play — and Mitch Bruneel flashed a three 14 seconds later to go up 35-32.
On the next possession, Pearre matched Bruneel’s effort with a triple from the left elbow. But Zach Nelson’s 3-pointer from the wing with 5:52 remaining put the Wolverines on top, 38-35.
“I felt like we were starting to get the momentum, Jalen hit some big shots, (Smith) got the big dunk at the end,” Pearre said. “We’re resilient. We never give up. We keep fighting until we get the win. And that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
Donte Williams led UVU with 14 points and three assists, and Zach Nelson added 12 points and five rebounds for the Wolverines. Bruneel chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds, but UVU saw its losing streak stretched to five games.
The Wolverines have not won a game since a 60-57 win at IdahoState on Nov. 26.
Henry Bolton had a career-high five points off the bench for Utah State, doing all of his damage in the first half as the Aggies tried to keep pace during a mostly dry first 20 minutes.
“We want to win. We hate to lose; we lost four in a row, and we could’ve won all four,” Moore said. “This game, we were able to win and come back again, and that’s huge for us to fight until the end. That’s good in a team.”