by Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
LOGAN, Utah – Sophomore guard Koby McEwen scored the first eight points of the game for Utah State and finished with a career-best 31 as the Aggies defeated a short-handed New Mexico team, 89-80 on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
McEwen also led all players on the glass with a career-high 13 rebounds as he recorded the second double-double of his career. Furthermore, the native of Toronto, Canada, dished out six assists as he played all 40 minutes of the game and shot an efficient 10-of-15 from the floor, 6-of-8 from behind the 3-point line and 5-of-5 at the free throw line.
Fellow sophomore guard Sam Merrill added 18 points and three assists as the Aggies (13-11, 6-5 Mountain West) won their third straight game for the second time this season. Two other starters for Utah State, junior forwards Dwayne Brown Jr. and Quinn Taylor, chipped in 15 points and five rebounds apiece, respectively.
“I’m really proud of our starters,” said USU head coach Tim Duryea. “They showed a lot of toughness. They were some tired guys at the end of the game, but were just really determined to finish it out. New Mexico was tremendous. Paul (Weir) is doing a great job with his guys. They are hard to guard. They can come back in a game so quickly from the 3-point line. They space you out, and then they drive the ball to the basket. They are really, really hard to guard.”
The Lobos (11-12, 6-4 MW), who played all seven players they suited up, were led by Anthony Mathis and Chris McNeal, who scored 25 and 21 points, respectively. Joe Furstinger added six points, nine rebounds and six assists as New Mexico shot 48.3 percent from the field (29-of-60), including 46.4 percent from 3-point range (13-of-28), and 90.0 percent from the free throw line (9-of-10).
McEwen accounted for 16 of the Aggies’ first 18 points as he also dished out three assists during the first 5-plus minutes of action, helping the hosts open up an early 10-point lead.
However, the Lobos methodically chipped away at the deficit and eventually moved in front, 35-31, with 3:04 remaining in the first half.
Utah State ended the half on an 8-0 run, though, and went into intermission leading 39-35. The Aggies took that momentum into the second half with them and used a 25-14 spurt to open its largest lead of the night, 64-49 with 12:19 to go.
Once again, the Lobos clawed back into it and pulled to within 83-80 with 1:03 remaining following a dunk by Troy Simons. That’s as close as New Mexico would get, though, as Utah State ended the contest on a 6-0 run.
“We played good team basketball today,” McEwen said. “We can pick it up a little bit defensively; it was a subpar effort on the defensive end. We’ll go back and watch the film and get better with that. We fought throughout the whole game and came out with a win. It was a well-executed game plan by us, and I’m proud of the guys. The coaching staff, I’m happy for them and I’m happy we got a win before we go into the bye.”
For the first time this season, Utah State shot over 50 percent form both the field and 3-point range, and over 80 percent from the free throw line. The Aggies connected on 31-of-55 shots from the field (56.4 percent), including 13-of-24 from downtown (54.2 percent), and were 14-of-17 from the stripe (14-of-17).
Behind McEwen’s 13 boards, Utah State outrebounded New Mexico 32-25, including nine offensive rebounds that helped lead to 17 second-chance points.
Utah State will have the weekend off before returning to action on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Wyoming. The game, which is slated to begin at 7 p.m., from Arena-Auditorium, will be streamed live on the Mountain West Network.
Utah State men’s basketball news and information is available on Facebook (facebook.com/usumen’sbasketball) and on Twitter (@usubasketball). Fans can also get USU men’s basketball highlights on YouTube (youtube.com/utahstateathletics). Aggie fans can follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter (@usuathletics), on Facebook (facebook.com/usuathletics) or on Instagram (@usuathletics).
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