April 17, 2012
LOGAN, Utah -
Following one of the most successful years in school history, the 2011-12 men's basketball season was one filled with obstacles and challenges for Utah State and veteran head coach Stew Morrill.
First, Utah State had to find a way to replace four starters and six seniors from a group who had won four-straight Western Athletic Conference regular season championships and made three-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Second, USU had to overcome a career-ending injury to its most experienced player as the year was just beginning. And third, Utah State had the lofty expectations of multiple 20-win seasons and postseason appearances resting firmly on its shoulders, despite having just one active player with extensive Division I experience on its roster.
Despite all of those obstacles and challenges facing this group of Aggies, who were mostly made up of newcomers and unproven players, Utah State continued its storied basketball history by securing its 13th-straight 20-win season and participating in its 13th-straight postseason as it advanced to the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
But it wasn't easy.
Leading the way for Utah State heading into the 2011-12 season was the WAC's Preseason Player of the Year according to the media in senior point guard Brockeith Pane. USU also had three other letterwinners returning from the previous year's NCAA Tournament team in senior forwards Brady Jardine and Morgan Grim, and junior guard E.J. Farris. However, outside of Jardine and Pane, USU's experience was in theory only as neither Grim nor Farris saw significant minutes in their first seasons as Aggies.
Utah State began the 2011-12 campaign with perhaps its best win of the year as it defeated in-state rival Brigham Young (69-62) at home. USU also recorded a home win against Southern Utah (65-62) in its third game of the year, despite losing Jardine to his season-ending injury, followed by a road win at Idaho State (75-62) in late November.
As the calendar turned to December, Utah State notched another in-state win at home against Utah Valley (63-54) to go along with a home victory against Seattle (78-53), followed by home wins against UT Arlington (73-69), Saint Peter's (72-47) and Kent State (81-62) to win its own Athletes in Action Classic, sponsored by Gossner Foods.
Following a two-point loss at 15th-ranked Mississippi State (66-64) to close out the calendar year, Utah State began defense of its four-straight regular season WAC titles with a home win against Fresno State (72-53). USU also recorded a road win at Louisiana Tech (69-65) and finished its first month of league play by defeating both Hawai'i (77-72) and San Jose State (82-65) at home.
In February, Utah State defeated Louisiana Tech (77-63), Montana Tech (70-58) and Idaho (67-50) at home, and then concluded WAC play with a road sweep of San Jose State (71-61) and Hawai'i (61-60) to finish in fourth-place in the conference with an 8-6 mark.
For the first time in five years, Utah State was not the top seed heading into the WAC Tournament and lost to fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech (72-70) in the quarterfinals, marking just the third time in the past 13 years that USU has not played in the championship game of its conference's tournament.
Despite its early exit in the WAC Tournament and fourth-place finish in the league during the regular season, Utah State's year was far from over as it accepted a bid to participate in the fourth-annual CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT), extending its postseason run to 13 straight years.
Utah State, which hosted all five of its games during its CIT appearance, began its historic postseason run with a 75-69 win against CSU Bakersfield, followed by a 76-56 victory against WAC rival Idaho in the second round. USU then played one of its best games of the year to defeat Loyola Marymount, 77-69, before crushing Oakland University, 105-81, to advance to the championship game of the CIT where it lost to Mercer, 70-67, to finish the year with a 21-16 record.
Even with its loss to Mercer in the championship game of the CIT, Utah State's four postseason wins were the most in a single-season in school history as it played in its first-ever postseason tournament championship game. Furthermore, those four postseason wins extended USU's current run of 20-win seasons to 13 straight. In fact, Utah State is one just five schools across the nation to win at least 21 games in each of the last 13 years along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Syracuse.
With team success comes individual recognition and Utah State had three players recognized for their accomplishments throughout the course of the year in Pane, sophomore guard Preston Medlin and junior forward Kyisean Reed.
For the 13th straight season, USU had at least one player earn first-team all-league honors as Medlin was named to the WAC's first team, marking just the second time in school history that a sophomore earned first-team all-conference honors along with Nate Harris (2004). Pane was also honored, as he was named to the WAC's honorable mention team after earning first-team all-league honors as a junior, while Reed was named to the league's all-newcomer team.
Medlin finished his sophomore season leading the team and ranking third in the WAC in scoring at 17.0 points per game. In fact, Medlin finished the year with 628 points to rank as the 10th-most in a single-season in school history and the second-most in a single-season by an underclassman. Furthermore, Medlin became just the sixth sophomore in school history to lead his team in scoring.
Medlin also finished the 2011-12 season ranking second in the WAC and 16th in the nation in three-point shooting at 42.8 percent. He also ranked fourth in the league in free throw shooting (.801), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.70), ninth in assists (3.35) and 10th in overall shooting (.496).
Pane finished the year ranking second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game. He also ranked fifth in the WAC in assists (4.30), seventh in free throw shooting (.777) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.49).
Overall, Pane finished his senior season with 159 assists to rank eighth all-time in school history for a single-season, while his 275 career assists ranks 17th all-time at Utah State.
Reed was the team's third-leading scorer at 10.0 points per game. Overall, he finished his junior season leading the WAC in field goal percentage at 61.4 percent which also ranks eighth all-time at Utah State for a single-season. Reed also ranked sixth in the WAC in blocked shots (1.14) as his 41 total blocks during the year are tied for the ninth-most in a single-season in school history. Reed also ranked 14th in the WAC in rebounding (5.1) and ended the season with a team-leading 40 dunks.
Along with its year-ending awards, Utah State also had two players earn WAC Player of the Week honors during the 2011-12 season as Pane won the award on Nov. 14 after leading USU to a season-opening home win against BYU as he had 21 points, five assists and four rebounds. Medlin was named the WAC Player of the Week on Jan. 30 after leading USU to a pair of home wins against Hawai'i and San Jose State. For the week, Medlin averaged 20.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game as he had 25 points against the Rainbow Warriors and 15 against the Spartans.
Utah State also had three players named to the CIT's all-tournament team in Medlin, Pane and senior forward Morgan Grim. Medlin averaged 21.4 points and 6.4 rebounds during the five games, while Pane averaged 13.8 points and 6.6 assists, and Grim averaged 12.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.
For all of his success and accomplishments during the 2011-12 season, Medlin was named a second-team all-district 6 selection by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
Once again, opposing teams found out just how hard it is to play at one of the best basketball venues in the West in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Utah State went 17-5 at home during the 2011-12 season and set a new single-season school record for games played with 22. USU also tied the single-season school record for home wins with 17 as it has now won 17 home games in each of its last five years. In fact, prior to its current run USU had never won more than 15 home games in a single year. USU also led the WAC in attendance in 2012 averaging 8,406 fans per game, including three sellouts during the season.
As for Coach Morrill, he has now won at least 20 games 17 times in his career and at least 17 games 23 times. In his 14 years at USU, he has posted an amazing 345-119 (.744) record, including a 175-55 (.761) league mark and a 25-8 (.758) record in conference tournaments.
Overall, Utah State finished the 2011-12 season ranking 24th in the nation in field goal percentage (.475), 59th in fewest turnovers per game (12.1), 66th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.11), 67th in three-point field goal percentage (.367), 80th in free throw shooting (.719) and 96th in field goal percentage defense (.415).
As for the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State led the league in scoring defense for the fifth-straight year allowing 64.9 points per game. USU also ranked second in the WAC in field goal percentage (.475), second in field goal percentage defense (.415), third in scoring margin (+4.1), third in free throw shooting (.719), third in three-point field goal percentage (.367), third in three-point field goal percentage defense (.330), fourth in assists (13.43), fifth in rebounding margin (+0.7) and sixth in blocks (3.22).
Utah State had several statistical categories that ranked among the top 10 in school history for a single-season, including setting a record for games played with 37, bettering the previous record of 35 set four different times, including most recently during the 2009-10 season. USU also had several other categories this year that ranked among the top 10 all-time including ranking third in three-pointers attempted (566), fourth in three-pointers made (208), sixth in blocks (119), sixth in total points (2,551) and 10th in assists (497).
The Aggies finished the 2011-12 season with some interesting trends. They were 21-7 on the season when its backcourt out-scored its opponent's backcourt; 17-2 when leading at the half; 17-2 when it committed fewer fouls than its opponents; 17-7 when it had more defensive rebounds than its opponent; 19-8 when it shot better from the field than its opponent; 17-4 when it blocked more shots than its opponent; 17-6 when it had more assists than its opponent; 15-5 when it shot better from three-point range than its opponent; and 14-7 when it out-rebounded its opponent.
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