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LOGAN -- The Utah State Aggies (6-4) are back in the Spectrum to host the Basketball Travelers Invitational Dec. 21-23. The Aggies open the Invitational Monday, Dec. 21 when they face the Morehead State Eagles (4-4) from the Ohio Valley Conference.
It'll be the Aggies third game in six nights.
"It's a really good tournament. It's a challenge every night out - it's a challenge to have this good of teams in it and then have to play three nights in a row." USU Head Coach Stew Morrill
"It's hard to imagine why with four starters of a 30 win team, but we are lacking a little bit of confidence," said USU's Head Coach Stew Morrill of his teams' performance against the Long Beach State 49ers Friday, Dec. 18 to whom the Aggies lost, 75-62. "We were awful. We weren't mentally prepared to play. We should be embarrassed. It was a horrible performance."
The 49ers' 75 points, 51 percent shooting from the field, and 42.1 percent from the 3-point line were the most the Aggies have allowed this season. The Aggies on the other hand only managed 38.2 percent from the field on the night and a dismal 20 percent from behind the 3-point line.
The Aggies are 34-1 all-time in tournaments they host, and swept the 2009 Basketball Travelers Invitational defeating Howard (85-45), Houston Baptist (94-77) and Wyoming (90-85 OT). The Aggies are 4-1 at home, but defending their home floor during the Invitational may not be as easy as in years past.
"It's a really good tournament. It's a challenge every night out - it's a challenge to have this good of teams in it and then have to play three nights in a row," said Coach Morrill. "We're looking at playing three athletic teams in a row and it starts with Morehead State. This is as good as our tournament has been in a long time."
The Eagles squeaked by the East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Friday at home, 60-58. Junior guard Demonte Harper had a season-high 17 points to lead the Eagles. Senior forward Maze Stallworth scored 12 and Junior Kenneth Faried pulled down 16 of MSU's 44 rebounds, 15 of which were offensive and led to 12 second-chance points.
"I thought the first half was the worst exhibition of offense we've had since I've been coaching here," said Morehead State Coach Donnie Tyndall, who saw his team shoot a meager 37 percent in the first half. "Our guys are a little reluctant versus the zone. Teams are going to throw a lot of zone at us because it limits Kenneth's (Faried) touches."
I guess it'll test us a little bit coming off the Long Beach debacle. It's one of those games where you better be mentally ready to play or you'll get embarrassed again.
–USU Head Coach Stew Morrill
The Aggie "bigs" will face a tough challenge in Faried, who leads the Eagles averaging 16.8 points and 13 rebounds per game.
"He's so athletic and so active. He's got a great nose for the ball. His rebounding ability reminds me of (The Utah Jazz's Paul) Millsap in terms of how strong he is and how he gets to the ball," said Coach Morrill. "He's a load, but they have some good players around him."
Harper is averaging 12.9 points per game and Stallworth is close behind with 8.9 per game.
At this point of the season last year the Aggies were 9-1 as opposed to their 6-4 start this year. As such some are wondering how much the Aggies miss the play and leadership of Gary Wilkinson, especially with all the talented big men the Aggies have struggled against this season.
"We've got a lot of veterans on this team. If we miss Gary, that's a lack of leadership on the veterans' part. I'm not going to accept that. They need to step up and show how long they've been here," said Coach Morrill. "We've always expected our veterans to respond with some adversity. That's what I expect them to do now. Hopefully we can move forward and that's what we need to do."
The veterans will get a chance to prove themselves right away.
"I guess it'll test us a little bit coming off the Long Beach debacle," said Coach Morrill. "It's one of those games where you better be mentally ready to play or you'll get embarrassed again."
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. Monday at the Spectrum. Weber State faces Cal State Fullerton at 5:30 p.m. to open the Basketball Travelers Invitational.