Logan • The Utah State men’s basketball team came out like a team that couldn’t afford to lose four in a row.
Not only did the Aggies (14-6, 3-3 Mountain West) snap their three-game losing streak with a win over the Nevada Wolf Pack (10-7, 3-2 MW) on Saturday, they did so in convincing fashion with a 80-70 result that wasn’t as close as the final score suggested. Nevada never led and trailed by as many as 18.
The Wolf Pack came into Saturday’s game as one of the highest-scoring teams in the Mountain West. But the Aggies stifled their offense and held them to just 46 points for the majority of the game before Nevada starting making shots in garbage time.
“I thought we had a really good night defensively,” senior guard Sam Merrill said. “That was what had to be the key.”
Sophomore center Neemias Queta led the Aggies with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and seven rebounds, while Merrill contributed an all-around game of 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists despite a difficult shooting night.
Utah State held Nevada to just 39% shooting overall. It also won the rebounding battle, beating the Wolf Pack 43-28 on the glass. The majority of the rebounds came on Nevada misses for the Aggies, who gave up only seven offensive rebounds.
“It’s been a been emphasis for us,” Aggies coach Craig Smith said of the rebounding. “It’s pretty obvious the last four or so games [that] we had to get back to who we are and what we are, and that was a monster emphasis in practice the last two days."
Something that helped Utah State on Saturday, Smith said, was he chose to play either Queta or 7-foot redshirt freshman center Trevin Dorius for most of the game. However, the Aggies got plenty of help on the rebounding front from their guards. Merrill, Abel Porter, Diogo Brito and and Alphonso Anderson combined for 23 of USU’s 43 boards.
While Merrill shot just 2 of 7 from the field, he was more focused on playing better overall compared with the last few games.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and find ways to help our team win," Merrill said. “I knew that I had to be better. Obviously I want to shoot the ball better, but hopefully I can do whatever I can to help the team win.”
The star of the night was Queta, who played 29 minutes on Saturday and was active from the opening tip. Queta took the loss against Air Force personally, Smith and Merrill said, and it seems like he wanted to avenge that performance.
“I thought he had a great night,” Merrill said. “As he gets into game shape — which I think you saw some of that tonight — he’s going to get back to who he is.”
An 11-0 run gave the Aggies a 20-6 lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half. Queta was an integral part of that run, getting shots at the rim with his activity on screen-and-roll actions.
But Nevada came back fighting. The Wolf Pack scored 10 straight points to cut their deficit to six points with about five minutes remaining in the first half. The rally was aided by three consecutive USU turnovers.
The Aggies jumped on the Wolf Pack to start the second half and opened up a 42-28 advantage. Before long, Utah State was up 18 and wasn’t threatened for the rest of the game.
“What a great team win,” Smith said. “I thought our guys made a lot of winning plays.”
The win put the Aggies at 3-3 in conference play. Smith said the team feels a sense of urgency to perform well in those games.
“I think we knew that, but now it’s ingrained that we have to bring it every night — especially in conference games,” Merrill said.