Sam Merrill scores 28 as Utah State beats Colorado State, 77-61

Utah State guard Sam Merrill, pictured getting fouled during a Jan. 21 victory over Air Force, scored 28 points to lead the Aggies over Colorado State 77-61 on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP)

Logan • The last time the Utah State basketball team played Colorado State, it was for all the Mountain West Conference marbles. And while Saturday’s matchup didn’t have as much at stake, it felt almost as stressful.

And much like last year’s matchup, the Aggies (16-6, 5-4 MWC) came out on top with a 77-61 win over the Rams at the Spectrum, marking their second consecutive victory. They used a 17-3 run in the second half after the score was tied.

Senior guard Sam Merrill led all scorers with 28 points on an efficient 10-of-15 shooting night. Sophomore center Neemias Queta had only 10 points, but was effective elsewhere on the floor, contributing seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Saturday night was an example of a Utah State team that has improved in close games compared to a season ago. While it hasn’t had much opportunity to show that skill lately — the Aggies lost to Boise State in overtime — it seemed like the team found that mojo once more against Colorado State.


- Utah State now has a winning record (5-4) in conference play.

- Sam Merrill leads all scorers with 28 points, making four 3-pointers.

- Aggies win their second consecutive game.

The Rams trailed by double figures but put together a run that had them down just three at halftime.

“When they made that run at the end of the first half, obviously we were disappointed,” Merrill said. “But we felt like if we could just shore up a couple of things, we’d be able to stretch out a lead.”

The game was tied at 52-52 for two and a half minutes before Merrill broke the deadlock with a long 2-pointer. Queta then blocked a shot on the defensive end, which set up another Merrill jump shot off a screen.

At that point, the home crowd went berserk. USU’s run extended to 11 unanswered points, punctuated by Queta’s dunk off Merrill’s pass.

At one point in the second half, Colorado State hadn’t made a field goal in almost eight minutes. That drought forced by USU’s defense gave the Aggies the opportunity to take a 69-55 lead 4:08 remaining in the game.

“I thought we just defended unbelievable,” Aggies coach Craig Smith said.

Utah State held the Rams to just 34.4% shooting in the second half. The Aggies shot a blistering 68% during the same period.

The Rams took a 49-46 lead with about 13 minutes to play in the game — their biggest lead to that point —before the Aggies answered. Diego Brito made a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie the score.

Colorado State regained a two-point advantage only to have it erased again by Alphonso Anderson, who rebounded Abel Porter’s missed 3-pointer and made the layup.

Merrill was aggressive early, making two of this first three 3-point attempts in the opening three minutes of play. The Aggies as a whole shot well early, knocking down 50% of their shots by the first media timeout.

Utah State went on an 8-0 run midway through the first half to take a 25-11 lead. But the Rams ended the half on a 12-2 run to cut their deficit to 31-28. USU committed five turnovers during that stretch.

It has been a while since Utah State played in a game like Saturday night’s. The last time was before Christmas when the Aggies beat Florida, 65-62, in the midst of a three-game winning streak.

Adam Thistlewood and Nico Carvacho both had 14 points for the Rams, who fell to 14-8 on the season and 5-4 in conference play.

The Aggies beat the Rams in overtime of the MWC title game. Sam Merrill poured in 38 points in that game.

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