Missed Opportunities Story by Daniel Hansen — Photos by Sydney Oliver and Chantelle McCall

Even gold will lose its glimmer with time.

Utah State’s improbable run in the Mountain West tournament came to a close on Friday night by virtue of an 83-68 loss to New Mexico in the semifinal round in Las Vegas.

“Credit to New Mexico,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “I thought they were extremely hard to play against … They did a great job of not letting us execute and we had a seven or eight-minute stretch where we played about as badly as we can play. We just could not overcome that stretch.”

Initially, USU seemed poised to continue their magical run, utilizing a 12-0 run early in the game to take a 20-12 lead with 9:45 remaining in the first half. New Mexico’s full court press suffocated USU afterwards, however, as the Aggies managed only five more points before halftime as the Lobos stormed in front to take a 37-25 lead into the locker rooms.

“They play that pressure defense,” sophomore guard Sam Merrill said. “It started with one turnover and then we just got sped up, and that’s exactly what they want you to do and that’s what you can’t do. Once you get sped up and have a couple of turnovers, it all turns mental, and that was our issue.”

In USU’s first two games of the tournament, the Aggies overcame deficits of 15 and 13 points, but the margin proved to be too large on Friday. New Mexico stretched their lead out to 23 points early in the second half as USU continued to struggle against the press. Utah State attempted to build a comeback throughout the remainder of the game, but was unable to trim the lead to single digits.

“When it started going their way, I thought mentally, as much as physically, we did not handle that very well,” Duryea said. “ It just kind of snowballed … So when we made a couple of mini-runs in the second half, we could never make them stand up because (New Mexico) always kind of came through and stemmed the tide.”

While the Aggies were able to remain competitive in the turnover battle, USU was far less efficient at converting its turnover opportunities than were the Lobos. Utah State finished the game shooting 12-of-23 on layup and dunk attempts, while New Mexico finished 9-of-10 on the same types of shots.

“I think we were playing real timid to start the game,” sophomore guard Koby McEwen said. “After we broke their press, we weren’t attacking it after that … We can’t start games like that.”

Utah State was looking for its first berth in a conference title game since 2011. The loss dropped the Aggies to 17-17 on the season, putting any postseason opportunities for USU very much in doubt. A trip to the College Basketball Invitational may be a possibility for the Aggies.

“Obviously, this is disappointing and this isn’t our goal and we want to get better,” Merrill said. “Hopefully, we can take what we’ve learned from these situations and apply it into whatever we do going forward to get better and to be able to move forward next year.”

Any postseason tournament would extend the Aggies’ season and also the careers of two players on the team. Departing seniors Julion Pearre and Alex Dargenton are the only Aggies currently set to leave the program.

“We’re in discussions now,” Duryea said. “We have had a couple of tournaments reach out to us … but I know we’ve got a locker room full of guys that would like to keep playing. So hopefully one of those will work out.”

We will update on Utah State’s postseason opportunities as more information comes.

Merrill led the Aggies with 17 points and five assists in the game. McEwen added 16 points with eight rebounds and three assists. Senior guard Julion Pearre and junior forward Quinn Taylor added 13 and 10 points, respectively.

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