Fort Collins, Colo. • Sam Merrill had a career-high 38 points as Utah State claimed a share of the Mountain West Conference title, narrowly beating Colorado State 100-96 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Quinn Taylor had 18 points for Utah State (25-6, 15-3), which won its seventh straight game. Neemias Queta added 12 points. Justin Bean had 10 points for the road team, which secured its 17th conference championship and first since joining the Mountain West. Utah State’s last conference title came during the 2010-11 season, when it was a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
“We’re five and a half months into this,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. "To win a regular season championship, to me, has always been the most rewarding. Anyone can win a conference tournament championship because you get hot at the right time, win three games in three days, three games in four days and it depends on the tournament. To win a regular season, we haven’t won the outright, but we cliched the share. To do that over an 18-game schedule with all that travel, everything that goes on, you have to be mentally and physically tough. There’s so many other things that go into it. Our coaching staff is outstanding. Logan Ogden, our strength coach, has been amazing. Carl Smith, out athletic trainer, has been amazing. It takes a true team to make that happen. Kudos to our guys for finding a way to win this game tonight.”
Merrill also grabbed eight boards to help the Aggies outrebound the Rams 35-30. The native of Bountiful also dished out six assists, tying junior guard Abel Porter for the team high.
“It feels incredible,” Merrill said. “We had to really grind that one out. Defensively, we never really had the legs and we had some good stretches for the most part. We weren’t great, and they were a really good offensive team. They’re No. 1 in the league in offensive efficiency.”
Utah State is undefeated (4-0) when scoring at least 100 points this season.
J.D. Paige scored a career-high 29 points and had six assists for the Rams (12-18, 7-10). Kris Martin added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Nico Carvacho had 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Aggies improve to 2-0 against the Rams for the season. Utah State defeated Colorado State 87-72 on Jan. 19. Colorado State finishes out the regular season against UNLV at home on Saturday.