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SALT LAKE CITY — That clanking sound you heard might have been Utah State's at-large NCAA tournament hopes crashing to the ground. Or maybe it was just from one of the many bricks thrown up by the Aggies in the second half on Monday in Las Vegas.
After running off 11 straight wins, Utah State has now lost two in a row, falling at UNLV 59-56 after Steve Ashworth's potential game-tying 3 was blocked in the final seconds.
Las Vegas wasn't very lucky for coach Craig Smith's team. Actually, on second thought, just the fact the Aggies had a look at the end was a minor miracle.
Utah State (12-5, 9-2) was just 6-of-20 from the field in the final 20 minutes, had a scoreless drought of over six minutes and trailed by 9 with 1:19 remaining. With how the Aggies were scoring, all the Rebels really had to do was not turn it over and not foul and it was certainly game over.
They turned it over — and they fouled. Hey, there's a reason UNLV is only 6-6 on the season.
The Rebels struggled with USU's press and even when they got through that, they shot themselves in the foot.
Here's how it went:
- Justin Bean got a steal, leading to two Aggie free throws.
- Marco Anthony got another steal, leading to a Bean layup.
- UNLV's Nick Blake missed a breakaway dunk which resulted in two more USU free throws.
- Blake then traveled as he geared up for another breakaway dunk, leading to, you guessed it, two more free throws.
It was a near-disastrous ending for UNLV. USU was 6-of-28 from the field in the second half. The Aggies couldn't make anything. Yet, instead of forcing shots, the Rebels sent the Aggies to the line six times in the final 1:08 of the game. It was like UNLV was trying to write a manual on how not to win a game.
It all allowed the Aggies to cut the lead to just 1 point with 10 seconds remaining. But when the Rebels finally allowed USU to just shoot, the game was finally (and not surprisingly, considering how the rest of the evening went) sealed. After UNLV knocked down two free throws with six seconds remaining to push the lead to 3, Neemias Queta caught a long outlet pass and quickly tossed it to Ashworth. The freshman guard rose for the tying shot but it was swatted away and the buzzer sounded. `
The final minute notwithstanding, it was a rough night for the Aggies.
UNLV knocked down 13 3s, the most the Aggies have given up in Mountain West play. Utah State shot a season-low 32.8% and was just 5-of-22 from 3. The Aggies' bench, which was key in so many victories during their long winning streak, scored a season-low-tying 4 points.
Anthony led the Aggies with 18 points and nine rebounds. Bean added 10 points and six rebounds, and Queta had 8 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.
USU will play the Rebels again on Wednesday at 9 p.m.