DURHAM, N.C. – Utah State struggled to find its shooting touch in the second half, falling on the road at Duke on Sunday, 85-52. The Aggies shot a season-low 33.3 percent (19-of-57) en route to suffering their first loss of the season and moving to 4-1.
USU was led in scoring by senior guard Chris Smith, scoring in double digits for the fifth consecutive time this season and finishing with 13 points, including 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point line. Sophomore forward Elston Jones led the Aggies on the glass, recording five rebounds, all of the offensive end.
Duke (6-1) was led by a trio of double-digit scorers in sophomore guard Grayson Allen (22 pts), freshman guard Luke Kennard (22 pts) and senior forward Amile Jefferson (13 pts). Jefferson also led the Blue Devils with nine rebounds and tied for the team lead with two assists, two blocks and two steals. Duke shot 55.6 percent (30-of-54) as a team, the best shooting performance for an Aggie opponent this season.
Utah State scored the opening points of the contest as junior wing Jalen Moore converted a pair of free throws. The Aggies then had a second lead, 6-4, on a jumper by Jones three minutes into the game. Duke then scored five straight and stretched the margin to double digits, 31-20, with 5:39 to play and held onto the 11-point advantage going into the break, 38-27.
The Aggies struggled to find their shooting groove after the half, failing to score on their first seven possessions, while Duke put together a 16-0 run over the first five minutes to put the game out of reach. Sophomore guard Julion Pearre exorcised some of the Utah State frustration with a dunk with less than a minute to play, leading to the final score of 85-52.
Utah State will be back in action on Tuesday night at Missouri State, squaring off against the Bears at 6 p.m. (MT).
Quotes from head coach Tim Duryea after the game:
<strong>His reaction to the game</strong>
“Disappointing performance from our perspective. We are a better program than that. I thought we were extremely selfish offensively. I thought we were extremely soft defensively, it was just a performance not to be proud of. I didn’t think there was one redeeming quality about our performance.
“This was a tremendous atmosphere, a tremendous place to play, obviously. It was an honor to play here and coach against Coach K. I just think we didn’t respond to any of that at all in a positive way. I think we are a program that is better than that and one that should respond to an opportunity like that better. It was just extremely disappointing.”
<strong>On the opening of the second half</strong>
“We knew it would be their ball coming out and made some adjustments, defensively, that we thought would help us. They got a couple of baskets and I thought we gave in a little mentally. The fact that it was a little tough for us on the other end, kind of wilted us down at that point, got soft there for a little while and the game got away from us.”
<strong>On Duke playing a 1-3-1 zone on only one possession</strong>
“If there was one bright spot is that we worked on that 1-3-1 zone a lot in practice. When Duke has been struggling defensively, that is the defense they have jumped into. Our offense did a good job on that possession of moving the ball and attacking the defense and we had an open three in the corner and knocked it down.”
<strong>On the tough showing offensively</strong>
“I just thought we were selfish. The ball was sticking, too many individual agendas kind of tripped us up on the offensive end. When you over dribble, when you stand, when you don’t play the right way then you are going to get low percentage shots and you are not going to make very many of them. They are hard enough to play against when you are playing the right way. They make you scratch and claw and those big guys are a presence defensively. They are experienced, do a good job around the rim and are long on the perimeter.”
<strong>On moving forward</strong>
“I told our guys in the locker room that I wasn’t proud and happy about that performance. I wish we could play again tonight and I wish that we could practice tonight, but we have to travel. We need to be ready to go on Tuesday night. We have a quality Missouri Valley team on their floor and we need to have a different mentality defensively and whole different mentality on offense that we need to take the floor with.”