LOGAN, Utah -- Utah State extended the nation's longest winning streak with a game that got much closer than the Aggies expected or wanted.
After opening the second half with a 12-0 run and leading by 17, Utah State (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) needed to hold off several rallies by Louisiana Tech down the stretch and win 60-52 on Saturday night.Utah State's 18th straight win was not the most memorable of the streak, but it's one coach Stew Morrill surely won't let the Aggies forget soon. The Bulldogs got within four points twice in the final minutes before the Aggies (23-1, 11-0 Western Athletic Conference) finally clinched it."We got ahead by quite a bit and then we kind of let them back in it. We want to finish a game off and not have it so close at the end," said Tyler Newbold, who had 13 points, seven rebounds and a crucial steal at the end.After making two free throws to give the Aggies a 58-52 lead, Newbold swiped the ball away from Jamel Guyton, drew a foul and made two more foul to clinch it. Newbold was 8-for-8 from the foul line and Gary Wilkinson went 8-for-9 as the Aggies outscored the Bulldogs 15-6 on free throws.Wilkinson scored 16 points and Jared Quayle had eight assists for Utah State.The Aggies held the Bulldogs (9-15, 3-8) scoreless for the first six minutes of the second half, but Louisiana Tech started hitting shots and quickly trimmed the lead to single digits."I think that's been the story of the year for us," Wilkinson said. "We start really aggressive and tenacious and then we kind of relax. We kind of think, 'Oh, it's in the bag.' That's going to come back to bite us. We let up defensively. We're not as physical, we're not as tough and we just let teams back in."Kyle Gibson scored 14 to lead the Bulldogs, who have lost five straight.Olu Ashaolu scored 12 and Magnum Rolle came back from a scary fall on his tailbone early and finished with eight points and five rebounds.Coach Kerry Rupp said Rolle badly bruised his hip, but wanted to play and finish out the game as the Bulldogs nearly pulled off the comeback."It just fell apart on us the first few minutes when they got that 12-0 run," Rupp said. "The kids just decided, 'Let's battle. Let's fight.'"Utah State appeared to put the game out of reach several times, but the Bulldogs continued to come up with rallies and made it a close finish.After Wilkinson converted a three-point play with 4:44 that put Utah State up 52-40, the Bulldogs answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the margin in half. After opening the second half 2-for-11, the Bulldogs went 13-for-30 in the half got the margin down to four twice."It was kind of an old-fashioned slugfest," Morrill said. "You have to get down and dirty in those kinds of games and fortunately we did -- kind of like we've done all year."Rolle hit a long jumper to get the Bulldogs within 56-52, then Newbold ended the threat. He made both foul shots with 26 seconds left, then swiped the ball away before Louisiana Tech could get off a shot on the next possession. He was fouled immediately and made both foul shots.Newbold was 7-for-7 from the line and Wilkinson made eight of his nine foul shots.Utah State closed the first half with five straight free throws, starting when Tyler Newbold drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left. Newbold made all three foul shots and Wilkinson added two more with 31 seconds remaining after he pulled down a defensive rebound.The Bulldogs did not attempt a free throw in the first half.Louisiana Tech lost Rolle early in the second half when he leaped for a dunk and his feet went out from under him, landing right on his tailbone. Rolle winced in pain the whole way as he was helped to the tunnel, but came midway back with 11:53 left in the game.The Aggies lost forward Brady Jardine when he took an elbow to the head in the lane in the first half. He was helped to the locker room and did not return.