Mountain West Tournament: Sam Merrill Leads #2 Utah State Past #7 New Mexico, 75-70
Merrill, Neemias Queta, overcame foul trouble.
The Aggies were without Merrill, Queta and Abel Porter for much of the second half.
Sam Merrill (29 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist) led all scorers despite second half foul trouble and Utah State defeated New Mexico in a close on inside the Thomas and Mack Arena at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The reward for the Aggies (aside from moving on to the conference tournament semifinals)?
A new GIF featuring Craig Smith.
New Mexico was led by JaQuan Lyle (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Corey Manigault (18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 1 steal), while “Vegas Vance” Vance Jackson took a bit of a step back in the quarterfinal game.
Utah State started strong from the get-go, maintaining a 13 point lead for the first 10 minutes of the game. But New Mexico showed an emerging defense and attacking offense, allowing them to tie the game by the half despite a mere 31% shooting for the half.
Throughout the second half, the teams traded leads, with New Mexico going up by as many as 11 while Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta were sidelined by foul trouble. Critical to the surge was New Mexico’s defensive pressure with Utah State’s primary ball handlers Abel Porter (who was suffering back pain through the game) and Sam Merrill off the court. The Lobos forced 17 turnovers in the game, many of which came during that time.
Turnovers decreased, offensive flow improved and Craig Smith’s squad was far more calm and collected to close out the game.
Down 57-46 with 9:38 remaining, Merrill was back in the game with 4 fouls. The Aggies quickly cut the lead to 57-51 before giving up a Keith McGee three pointer that put New Mexico up 60-51. But an 11-3 run in favor of the Aggies was enough to knot the game at 63 each with 3:50 left in the game. The teams continued to trade buckets, remaining tied 70-70 with 1:33 remaining before Diogo Brito hit a big-time three-pointer.
The three proved to be too much for New Mexico to overcome, thrusting Utah State into a semifinal match-up with the surprise-of-the-conference Wyoming Cowboys who have not only been the first 11-seed to win a game in the Mountain West tournament, but the first to be in the semifinals.
That game takes place at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Thursday at 8:30 PM PT.
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