win a nail biter on national TV
By G. Christopher Terry
February 21, 2006 | The Aggies
overcame an opponent that came in waves Saturday
night in the Dee Smith Spectrum for a 66-63 win.
Jaycee Carroll's four clutch free throws in the
last 40 seconds turned a one-point deficit into
the margin of victory.
Down 34-21 at halftime, the Aggies, who were
without the services of an illness-beset Chris
Session, had turned it over 11 times to the Purple
Demons of Northwestern State. Clifton Lee, perhaps
the finest player in the Southland conference,
had put up 13 points as the leader of an 11-man
rotation that was playing loose and confident.
USU Coach Stew Morrill said, "They were
so much the aggressor and had us totally out of
sorts in the first half."
The Aggies managed a mere eight points in the
first 10 minutes while a strangely subdued crowd
of 7,740 looked on. The frustration boiled over
for Harris after a referee denied him a putback
basket. Harris said that might have motivated
him for the rest of the game.
"I thought I was just blocking out and I
didn't get my hands on anybody," Harris said,
"and they called it on me."
On the verge of being stuck in a two-game home
losing streak, the Aggies responded by feeding
their main man the ball early and often in the
second half. Harris, who scored 27 points and
had 12 rebounds and four steals, was simply dominant.
The Aggies got their senior leader the ball on
their first three possessions and he converted
the touches into two layups and an assist when
he passed out of a double-team and found Dave
Pak alone for three.
"We went to Nate a ton. He was determined,
he was determined on the boards. That's an unbelievable
night for him," Morrill said of his senior
star, who played down the stretch with four personal
Harris' play keyed a run that got the Ags back
in the game, but each time the Aggies charged
the Demons were able to answer. Northwestern State
clung to its lead doggedly, even re-expanding
it to as large as 11 points off two Jermain Wallace
ALL THE WAY:
Nate Harris goes for a tough
dunk. / Photos by Robert McDaniel
Carroll, with his classic jump-shooters flair for the
dramatic, took Wallace's buckets as his cue to take
center stage with back-to-back three-pointers of his
"I missed a couple shots early," Carroll
said with his trademark elan, "but if I missed
a couple that means I'm going to make a couple."
The Demons didn't yield easily. Every time the Aggies
closed the gap Northwestern State scrapped something
out to enlarge its lead again. The visitors' lineup,
heavy on seniors and juniors, kept rotating while Morrill
stole minutes with Nick Hammer and milked his timeouts
to rest the team.
Like two thoroughbreds hammering down the closing
stretch, the Aggies and Demons entered the final minute
with the home side leading by one. Northwestern State
claimed a one-point lead off two Tyronn Mitchell free
throws, and then once again it was time for Carroll
to wow the home crowd.
"It's just kind of what you live for," Carroll
said. "You live for opportunities like that when
you play basketball."
Carroll was fouled by Colby Bargeman and sank both
shots, nudging the Ags in front by a nose.
The Demons missed their ensuing shot, but Lee got
the offensive board and was fouled. The sweet stroke
that had terrorized the Aggies in the first half deserted
the Demons' star as he missed both and for the first
time the Northwestern bench appeared to realize the
possibility of losing to an opponent that had been bloodied
and beaten but never conquered.
The rest was history: Carroll improved to 6-6 from
the line after getting fouled, the Demons' desperation
heave was errant, and the Aggies left the court the
"We just finally got over the top of the mountain,"
Carroll said of the fiercely contested win, "and
it felt good."
In Morrill's post-game press conference in the Rod
Tueller room, he drew a laugh from the assemblage when
asked what he said at halftime and he politely declined
to give gory details. Harris, waiting nearby for his
turn with the media, just smiled restrainedly when Morrill
asked him if the speech was suitable to be repeated
outside the locker room. "We talked about competing
a little bit," Morrill said after the laughter
died down. "And working our way back into things
gradually, getting base hits not home runs. You're not
going to have a 15-point possession."
Carroll said in the first half the Demons "knocked
us around and all we did was kind of stop and look at
the ref and wonder what's going on. The second half
we came out a little tougher and we didn't let them
knock us around so much."
The win, which was beamed to a national audience on
ESPN U, was exactly the sort of resume-builder Ebay
Bracket Buster games are supposed to be. The Aggies
were outnumbered, the Spectrum crowd was muted and things
looked black, yet they persevered when nothing was going
right and handed a worthy adversary the loss.
Making NCAA history with a record 37-0 run against
an Idaho team clearly out of their depth last Wednesday
was a great accomplishment, but the Northwestern State
win is the type teams can use to build a case to the
NCAA selection commitee in March.
Harris and Carroll, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, produced
the baskets and were rightly feted as heroes, but equally
deserving of accolades are Pak, Cass Matheus, Hammer,
Durrall Peterson, Chaz Spicer and Chris Huber. Gritty
team defense, what Morrill complained was missing from
his team against New Mexico State last Saturday, often
cannot be measured statistically.
Thursday night the Aggies will be on the road at Boise
State, going for a season sweep of the Broncos and trying
to stay on the heels of league-leaders Nevada and Louisiana
Cass Matheus, above, dunks with
authority. Bottom, David Pak struggles to get
off a finger roll.
The Quotable Stew
On the Aggies' performance
in the first half: "We turned it over just
a ton. They got us fed up and we didn't execute.
They were knocking the heck out of us, they were
out-physicaling us. Anything you can think of."
On the vanquished foe: "That's
a good basketball team. Northwestern State is
. . . I don't know if people realize how good