Despite losing two starters before the season even began, Utah State coach Tim Duryea had hoped his streak of bad luck would be over in time to rough up the No. 17 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
But Duryea’s woes aren’t quite over. In Gonzaga’s 79-66 win over the Aggies on Saturday, he was down another starter.
Hours before the start of the game, the Aggies officially ruled out one of their top shooters – sophomore guard Koby McEwen.
McEwen suffered an ankle injury in Utah State’s 83-47 win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. The Aggies were unsure of the extent of the injury until Saturday.
He now joins guard Julion Pearre and center Norbert Janicek, who were sidelined before the start of the season.
Pearre was benched shortly before their season opener when he suffered a non-contact injury at practice, leaving the starting point guard position wide open. The Aggies also lost a lot of size when 6-11, 250-pound center Norbert Janicek got sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.
McEwen, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year last season, is averaging 13.3 points in three games this season. The sophomore guard led last year’s Aggies with 14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31 games.
“He just gives you another weapon that you need against a high-caliber defense and a high-caliber opponent,” Duryea said of McEwen. “With him out, and Julion Pearre out, our guard line was very thin.”
Against Gonzaga, Duryea was forced to switch his players around to positions some hadn’t seen in years. The Aggies worked in three freshman guards and a sophomore, Diogo Brito, who found a rhythm against the Zags.
Brito practiced at point guard for the first time in a couple of years during a practice on Friday. He finished with 11 points – third most for the Aggies on Saturday. He shot 62.5 percent from the field (5 for 8), including one of Utah State’s 11 3s.
“He came in the first half and did such a good job, not only at the 1, but the other spots. Might have been our best player on the floor there for a stretch,” Duryea said.
Sam Merrill tried to make up for McEwen’s big shots with a season-high 19 points. The sophomore guard went 7 for 15 from the field and drained three 3s in the first half.
Merrill wasn’t sure if McEwen’s presence would have been a game-changer against the 17th-ranked team in the nation, but his absence certainly hurt the Aggies down the stretch.
“We had the chance to be right there, we just broke down a little bit defensively and offensively,” Merrill said. “Just got to give credit to the guys who stepped up with him out. It’s hard to tell whether or not if things would have been different with him in.”
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