Utah State men’s basketball gets fifth straight win in 78-58 victory over Wyoming

Wyoming guard Trevon Taylor, left, and Utah State guard Diogo Brito scramble for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

Logan • Dribbling the ball off their feet. Air-balling free throws. Getting blocked by Neemias Queta.

No matter what the Wyoming Cowboys wanted to do, they just couldn’t do it. And the Utah State Aggies took advantage in a big way.

The Aggies beat the Cowboys 78-58 Wednesday at The Spectrum. Utah State (22-7, 11-5 Mountain West) won its fifth straight game while handing Wyoming (6-20, 1-14 MW) its fourth consecutive loss.

“I thought for the most part we played great,” junior guard Abel Porter said. “We had good energy and a good feel to us tonight.”

Senior guard Sam Merrill, who was recognized before the game for eclipsing 2,000 career points, led USU with 26 points, three assists and three rebounds. Sophomore forward Justin Bean contributed a double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Queta had eight points and 15 rebounds. He and Bean combined for 29, outrebounding Wyoming’s entire team by themselves. The Cowboys had 25 rebounds.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a box score with two guys on the same team in college basketball [where] one has 15 rebounds and the other has 14 rebounds,” coach Craig Smith said.

The win continued to put the Aggies in better position for their ultimate goal: winning the conference tournament and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. In the most recent Bracket Matrix averages, USU is projected as a 12th seed.

With just two conference games left against teams below them in the standings, the Aggies have what seems like a clear path to taking second in the Mountain West.

“All we can really do is just go out on the court and and just win games in order to make our resume — or whatever it is — the best it can be,” Porter said.

The Cowboys actually led in the first half at one point when Brandon Porter’s two free throws gave them an 18-17 lead. Wyoming scored just 10 points for the rest of the half.

Bean said the Cowboys capitalized on Utah State’s turnovers early in the first half, which led to them taking the one-point lead. But the Aggies rolled after a timeout and not only played with more cohesion offensively, but also got several defensive stops in a row.

“I just thought we had to do a lot better job of communicating on offense and being sharper with our cuts,” Bean said. “I thought we weren’t cutting really hard and playing for each other. … After that media timeout, I thought we locked up on defense, got a lot of good stops and those led to good buckets for us.”

The Aggies went on a 14-2 run to close the first half and give them a 42-27 lead at the break. They opened up a 20-point lead on a couple of occasions in the second half.

The Cowboys cut it to 10, but the Aggies went on a run to blow the game open again.

Smith said two of the reasons for the lulls throughout the game were his lineup choices, in addition to getting hurt in transition. He said he sent more players back on defense to mitigate that, which helped.

Smith said that while he feels he needs to improve the players he puts in certain lineups, the players also have to execute.

“Certain guys just have to be better and be dependable,” Smith said.