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Utah State falls 66-64 to No. 15 Mississippi State

Mississippi State guard Deville Smith (33) makes a layup past Utah State guards Preston Medlin (13) and Ben Clifford (1) in the first half of their NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. Mississippi State guard Deville Smith (33) makes a layup past Utah State guards Preston Medlin (13) and Ben Clifford (1) in the first half of their NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
By David Brandt
AP Sports Writer / December 31, 2011
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STARKVILLE, Miss.—Utah State nearly knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State on its home court. That's not good enough for coach Stew Morrill.

"We made some errors down the stretch," Morrill said. "I'm pleased that we were in the game, but we've had enough success in our program that we're not going to feel good about losing a game like that. That was a game we could have won."

Utah State's Danny Berger missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Aggies fell to Mississippi State 66-64 Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum. Berger got a fairly clean look, but the ball skipped off two sides of the rim and fell to the floor, breaking the Aggies' four-game winning streak.

Preston Medlin led the Aggies with 15 points, Brockeith Pane added 11 and Morgan Grim had 10.

Rodney Hood scored 16 points and Arnett Moultrie had 15, and Mississippi State (13-2) rebounded from a loss to No. 6 Baylor this week.

"We weren't at our best from the tip -- from the first possession," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "You have some guys not feeling great, the emotion of Baylor and then put them against a very good Utah State team and that's what you get -- a one-possession game. We're lucky we found a way to win it."

Renardo Sidney added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. Moultrie had 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Stansbury said both players had a sinus infection but fought through it to post good numbers.

The Aggies have played in three straight NCAA tournaments, but lost several starters from last season's team. They still had plenty of talent to make things difficult for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State's Dee Bost had four assists to become the school's career leader, passing Derrick Zimmerman's record of 514. But Bost struggled for most of the game, shooting just 1 of 10 from the field. He's struggled over his past four games, shooting just 11 of 52 from the field.

"Lately, I've been playing bad, but other guys have been stepping up," Bost said. "That's the luxury we have."

Mississippi State was coming off Wednesday's 54-52 loss to Baylor in Dallas -- a much-anticipated, emotional game that came down to the final seconds. The Bulldogs looked less enthused in front of a half-full and only partly interested Humphrey Coliseum crowd on Saturday, and their performance in the first half reflected that malaise.

Utah State pulled ahead 15-6 midway through the first half as Mississippi State missed shots, made sloppy passes and blew defensive assignments, but the Bulldogs eventually responded with a 13-4 run that tied the game at 19. Sidney's 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in the half gave Mississippi State a 32-29 lead.

Mississippi State could never shake Utah State in the second half. Every time the Bulldogs made a good pass or shot to take the lead, the Aggies would respond with an equally impressive possession -- though Mississippi State's lax defense was a factor, too.

"It was real frustrating," Moultrie said. "I was real mad. Our guards were mad, too, but we just had to stick together and fight to get the win.

The Aggies pulled ahead 64-62 on Kyisean Reed's jumper with 2:42 left. But Reed missed two free throws on the next possession and Moultrie tied the game at 64 on a putback with 1:25 remaining.

Bost made two free throws with 34 seconds remaining, giving the Bulldogs a 66-64 lead.

Utah State's final possession had several stops and starts because Mississippi State had fouls to give, making it difficult for the Aggies to set up a play. But the final look was decent, with Berger catching the ball on the inbounds play, taking a step toward the basket and letting a 3-pointer fly.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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