Logan • With the shot clock winding down, Abel Porter, standing in the left corner, received a pass he then skipped to Sam Merrill on the wing. The junior sharpshooter swished home a 3-pointer with one second remaining and a hand in his face, and walked away shaking his head as if to say, “Finally.”
It was only Merrill’s second triple of the game in six attempts, but it led coach Craig Smith to sit his starters because the shot put the Aggies up by 26 points. The game was effectively over well before then, however, as Utah State extended its winning streak to six games with a 82-65 win over University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Saturday afternoon at the Spectrum.
“I wouldn’t say it was a lucky shot, but it was kind of an out-of-sorts shot and it went in,” Merrill said. “I miss all those open ones and I make that one. It’s all good.”
Merrill finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting and five assists, while freshman Neemias Queta had a double-double with 10 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. Junior Diogo Brito contributed 15 points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench.
Nine of the 11 Aggies players who saw the floor scored. Senior Quinn Taylor and Porter, a sophomore, scored nine points apiece.
Efficient as a modern home appliance, the Aggies dominated from the field on both offense and defense. USU shot a scorching 49 percent from the field and held the Runnin’ Rebels to an icy 37 percent. The Aggies also shot 43 percent from the 3-point line.
UTAH STATE 82, UNLV 65
• The Aggies extended their winning streak to six games
• The Aggies outscored UNLV 34-20 in the paint and 28-16 off the bench
• Sam Merrill led the team in scoring with 20 points
Utah State boasted both the best field goal percentage and best field goal percentage defense in the Mountain West Conference before Saturday, and will surely keep its position afterward. But the team’s scoring wasn’t what got praise from Smith after the game.
“I just thought we did a great job defensively for the most part,” Smith said. “Transition defense was key. They really never got loose on us, so to speak.”
UNLV came into the game as the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country, averaging 15.1 per game. But the Rebels mustered only nine as the Aggies out-rebounded them 44-32 overall.
While they’re a team known for their outside shooting, the Aggies started the game with four of their first five makes in the paint. Because they established their inside game with early aggression, they got good looks from the 3-point line later. Utah State finished the game outscoring UNLV 34-20 inside.
“That’s pretty indicative of who we are as a team. That’s what we’re always looking to do,” Merrill said. “I think they saw that, that we were very, very aggressive offensively and that opened up a lot of things for us.”
USU’s bench, led by Brito, also shined, scoring 28 points to 16 for the Rebels.
“I thought he was really, really good,” Smith said of Brito. “He did a great job defensively.”
The Aggies pulled away midway through the first half. After they opened up a 19-7 advantage when Merrill completed an and-1 and crashed to the floor to deafening cheers from fans, UNLV pulled to within three.
USU answered with a 16-4 run, and closed the half with seven straight points for a 48-28 lead.
The battle between the Aggies and Rebels had serious implications in the conference. Going into the game, Utah State was only one game ahead of UNLV in the standings with a matchup against second-place Fresno State next week.