for this game

McConnell, Saint Mary's the latest to upend Utah State

Feb 22, 2009 - 5:41 AM MORAGA, California (Ticker) -- After a 19-game winning streak that lasted two months, Utah State has now dropped two of three.

Saint Mary's pulled it off this time, jumping out to a big first-half lead and withstanding the Aggies' late surge to hold on for a 75-64 victory in their home finale.

"It was definitely a huge game," Saint Mary's guard Mickey McConnell said. "They are a great team and we need all the wins we can get. It was good to get a win against a highly competitive team."

The Gaels can certainly feel the Aggies' pain. They saw their own lengthy winning streak come to an end - in their case, a 15-game stretch - in late January and they proceeded to drop four of five as leading scorer Patrick Mills went down with a wrist injury.

However, Saint Mary's has since recovered to win three in a row.

"We as a team and a unit can understand the offense change and what not, because of Patty (Mills) getting hurt, but you can't understand the lapse on defense," Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan said. "We weren't playing as hard as we normally do. So we came together as a unit, and worked hard in practice."

Utah State, which was toppled by Boise State on February 14 but rebounded with a win over CSU Bakersfield four days later, was playing from behind for most of the night - but almost climbed all the way back after facing a double-digit deficit.

Late in the second half, Jared Quayle scored six straight points, including a 3-pointer at the 2:09 mark, to pull the Aggies to within three at 62-59. After Samhan went 1-of-2 at the foul line on the other end, Quayle had another chance to chip away at the Gaels' lead, but misfired from mid-range and Wayne Hunter connected from the arc with just over a minute left to extend the lead to 66-59.

"I think the difference was our intensity level," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. "You can feel it in the gym at the end of the half, you can feel it the whole second half. Actually, for the most part, the whole game."

Quayle tried to keep the Aggies in it, burying a 15-footer with a hand in his face, drawing contact and completing the three-point play. But it wasn't enough to get USU over the top. McConnell knocked down five free throws over the final 57 seconds to secure the win.

"We weren't very sporadic tonight. We played well at both ends of the floor. And Mickey had a great deal to do with that," Bennett said. "It's what a team is. You have to be confident in one another. And trust one another. Mickey's come through enough now that, all right, Mickey's gonna be fine, so he's doing well and thus we're doing well."

Misses were few and far between for McConnell all afternoon - be it at the foul line or otherwise. On his way to a career-high 22 points, the sophomore guard went 6-of-6 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line. Samhan added 19 points and 12 boards and Diamon Simpson had 18 and seven.

"Our desire to win that game was at a really high level," Bennett said. "I thought we played really well. I thought this was the best we played since we lost Pat. It's a good win for our resume."

Quayle carried Utah State with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, going 8-of-14 from the floor.