by Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
LOGAN, Utah – Sophomore guard Koby McEwen scored seven of his nine points in the second half, including the go-ahead basket with 9:07 remaining, and Utah State held on for a 62-59 victory over UC Irvine on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The Anteaters pulled within 60-59 with 38 seconds to go after Jonathan Galloway knocked down one of his two free throw attempts. Then after Utah State guard Sam Merrill, who scored a game-high 13 points, missed a layup 14 seconds later, the Anteaters’ Tommy Rutherford pulled down the rebound.
Following a timeout with 13 seconds left, UC Irvine put the ball in Eyassu Worku’s hands. With McEwen on his left hip, the sophomore guard drove to his right and headed straight for the basket. However, USU senior forward Alexis Dargenton provided solid help-side defense, forcing Worku to put up an off-balance shot that came up short from just outside the key.
Junior forward Quinn Taylor grabbed the board, and passed to McEwen, who was promptly fouled and sank the ensuing free throws to put the Aggies (5-5) up by three with five seconds left. The game wasn’t in the bag, though, until Rutherford missed the game-tying 3-pointer from the left baseline.
Two other Aggies besides McEwen finished with nine points, including Dargenton and sophomore guard Diogo Brito. Dargenton and Taylor grabbed eight rebounds apiece for Utah State.
Evan Leonard came off the bench to lead the Anteaters with 12 points, while Max Hazzard chipped in 10. Former Aggie Elston Jones, who is in his redshirt junior season with UC Irvine (4-7), had five points and six rebounds in his return to the Spectrum.
Early on, it appeared as if the Aggies were going to run away with the game. Utah State scored the first five points and took its largest lead of the night at 17-7 with 10:11 to go after Brown knocked down one of his two 3-pointers. He finished with eight points.
The Anteaters clawed back, though, and pared the deficit to one on a couple of occasions in the first half before the Aggies went into the break holding a 34-31 lead.
UC Irvine didn’t take its first lead until the 18:36 mark of the second half and was up 45-41 with 12:36 to go. That’s when Utah State went on a 9-3 run, capped by McEwen’s layup that propelled the hosts back in front for good.
Both teams shot identical from the field, going 21-of-58 (36.2 percent). However, the Aggies made two more 3-pointers than the Anteaters did and were 13-of-17 (76.5 percent) from the charity stripe, while UCI was 12-of-18 (66.7 percent).
Utah State will hit the road this weekend when the Aggies travel to Salt Lake City to take on in-state rival Utah in the first-annual Beehive Classic at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network and is set to tip off at 5:30 p.m.
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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