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LAS VEGAS — Sometimes, your luck can run out just that quick. The Utah State men's basketball team found that out Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
USU was playing in its first-ever Mountain West Conference semifinal game and faced No. 3 New Mexico.
The Aggies and Lobos split the season series in much different ways. New Mexico played with just six players in an 89-80 loss in Logan on Jan. 31. Then, in The Pit in Albuquerque on Valentine's Day with USU leading with 13 minutes left, New Mexico used a 30-12 run to finish the game and pick up the 78-63 win.
In a scene similar to that at The Pit, USU used a 12-0 run Friday to jump out to a 20-12 lead with 9:45 to play in the first half.
However, New Mexico responded and finished the first half on a 25-5 run to take a 37-25 lead into the locker room.
USU never recovered. Whether it was from fatigue or the fact that USU dug itself too deep of a hole, it didn't matter Friday night.
USU needs a big man in a big way
So USU big men Norbert Janicek and Klay Stall were lost to season-ending injuries. I get it. But USU lacked an inside presence all year. Alex Dargenton, when healthy, was somewhat efficient but just not enough. Quinn Taylor showed signs and Daron Henson has raw ability.
But there was no rim protection on Friday night, much like there hasn't been all season. USU is a solid team defense. The Aggies play well together and their quickness makes up for some of that missing rim protection. But if the Aggies want to compete again for an MWC championship, they have to find a rim protector.
Youth movement in Logan
There are just two seniors on the USU roster: Dargenton and Julion Pearre.
The two best players on the team are both sophomores in Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen. Quinn Taylor, Dwayne Brown Jr., Janicek and DeAngelo Isby are all juniors. Along with Merrill and McEwen, Diogo Brito and walk-on Taylor Larson are both sophomores.
And the rest of the squad are all freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Daron Henson, Klay Stall and Abel Porter are all redshirts. Former Brighton High star Brock Miller is most likely getting a medical redshirt this season and will be a redshirt freshmen for the 2018-19 season. And true freshman Crew Ainge and Justin Bean round out the roster.
It is something that has both Merrill and McEwen very excited for the future and something both acknowledged will be key to having a good offseason and summer if the Aggies are to make it further than the MWC semifinals.
USU gained invaluable experience in MWC tournament
USU trailed by 15 in the first half against Colorado State in the first-round game on Wednesday. The Aggies trailed by 13 against No. 2 seed Boise State on Thursday. And USU won both games.
Against New Mexico on Friday night, the luck ran out. But being able to come from behind to win games, learning how to battle through adversity and making the most of an opportunity many people didn't think you would have is what playing the game is all about.
Merrill, McEwen and company did that this week at the Mountain West Conference tournament and maybe, perhaps, set some expectations for USU fans of what could be with a fully healthy Aggie basketball team. Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias