USU basketball: Merrill not happy with just making progress against SDSU

First Published      Last Updated Feb 16 2017 05:33 pm

The box score was inescapable for Utah State freshman guard Sam Merrill following Wednesday night's loss at home to San Diego State.

Merrill's eyes kept coming back to the piece of paper on the desk in front of him as he answered questions shortly after the game. While it became clear Merrill thought the Aggies were competitive throughout the contest, that box score kept serving as a reminder that there was progress still to be made.

"We have gotten better," Merrill said in response to a question about the team's performance compared to their 74-55 loss at SDSU in January. "I mean the play we played down there, if we didn't play better here that would be pretty embarrassing.

"We have gotten better, and that's out goal — to continue to get better — but whether we lose by 20 or lose by four, it's still frustrating to lose."

Merrill went 4-for-10 shooting with 12 points, four assists and three turnovers, while Koby McEwen went 3-for-13 with 13 points, two assists and four turnovers. Merrill went 1-for-6 in the first half with three points, while McEwen went 0-for-5 with his only point before halftime coming on a free throw.

The Aggies did a good job of limiting the SDSU forward Malik Pope, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward, who came into the game having averaged 13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals in his previous five games. Wednesday, Pope had six points and five rebounds in 27 minutes.

SDSU junior shooting guard Trey Kell scored a game-high 21 points while sophomore point guard Jeremy Hemsley added 13. They went a combined 11-for-23 from the field and 4-for-9 on 3-pointers. They also accounted for all 10 points on a 10-0 run that gave SDSU the breathing room in the second half to hold off Utah State, which had been building momentum.

"They did a pretty good job," Merrill said. "I don't know how much Hemsley did? (Looking at the box score). He had 13. I think Kell got a couple cheap ones, but we knew that something that we had to be able to control if we wanted a chance. They were the only two that scored in double figures so it looks like we didn't do that job that we needed to."

Aggies head coach Tim Duryea praised the SDSU guards for their poise and mental toughness in guiding their team to victory.

The Aggies trailed by 11 in the first half, but had come back to take a lead in the second before Kell and Hemsley sparked the run that put the visitors in front for good.

SDSU had lost nine straight games when they'd shot a lower field goal percentage than their opponent. Utah State shot 42.3 percent compared to 41.1 percent by SDSU.

"We had some defensive stretches that were good enough to allow us to take the lead and try to take control of the game," Duryea said. "I mean, we hold them to 37 percent in the second half. That's not bad, and yet, Kell and Hemsley make a couple of very tough shots at the end of the clock and with a couple turnovers on our end that turned out to be the difference in the game."