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NUTHIN' UP MY SLEEVE!: A cow moose rests Tuesday in 3 feet of snow beside the Logan River just west of Tony Grove. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Help Wanted: U.S. Defense Department Seeks Better PR Officers

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but . . . our country has not adapted. For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a 'five and dime' store in an eBay world."

--U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on why al Qaeda is winning hearts and minds, in speech to U.S. Council on Foreign Relation (Thanks to alert WORDster Mark Larson) WORD Note: The WORD will take the next week off for Spring Break, sleeping in and seeking wisdom. Return: 3/20/06

Ags 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 fouls.

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 three-pointers.

CONTESTED 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 own.

"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 victors.

"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 Tech.

Cass Matheus, above, dunks with authority. Bottom, David Pak struggles to get off a finger roll.

The Quotable Stew Morrill:

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 they are."


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