Utah State advances to its first Mountain West semifinal
Sam Merrill drops 28 to lead Aggies past Boise State 78-75
Utah State comes up big in the second half (again)
It may have taken a frantic final minute to seal it, but Sam Merrill and the seventh-seeded Aggies would not be denied. Utah State topped Boise State 78-75 Thursday to advance to the conference semifinals.
Merrill was brilliant, netting 28 points with five rebounds and five assists. The sophomore’s 7-10 shooting from beyond the arc set the tone for an Aggie team often dedicated to bulk shooting, but not always successful. Utah State finished Thursday’s game shooting 56 percent from 3-point range.
The Broncos led by as many as 13 in the first half, appearing fully in control despite just seven minutes from senior Chandler Hutchison. The Aggies failed to take full advantage of Hutchison’s early foul trouble, needing a Merrill three at the end of the period just to stay within striking distance down 40-32.
Then both teams came out of their respective locker rooms at the half with the pedal to the floor, and things got wild in Vegas.
Boise built then lost a double-digit lead. Some guys in USU jerseys named Julion Pearre and Diogo Brito hit threes. A contingent of Wyoming fans cheered as Alex Dargenton hit a pair of free throws to give Utah State its first lead of the night with four minutes remaining. The Broncos snagged the most important offensive rebound of the tournament, flipping a lost possession into a go-ahead 3-pointer.
Trailing 73-70 with 2:28 on the clock, Utah State’s star backcourt hit the NOS. McEwen nailed the tying bucket. Tensions rose. Dwayne Brown hit a free throw to give Utah State a 1-point edge everyone knew wouldn’t be enough. Finally, with 31 seconds to play, the ball found its way into Merrill’s hands. Utah State’s pale assassin pulled the trigger on his career-high-tying seventh made 3-pointer of the night. With 24 seconds to go, Boise State answered with a layup to draw back within one possession at 77-75.
Thrilling and messy, the final 24 seconds saw travels from both teams, terrible inbounds passes from both teams, and the questionable decision by the Aggies not to foul in the game’s final moments, allowing Hutchison a shot to play hero. The senior’s shot bounced harmlessly off of the rim, and the final horn sounded.
It was the Broncos’ third straight loss in the Mountain West quarterfinals. It also happened to be the Aggies’ first win.