LOGAN – Senior Sam Merrill cruised to an efficient 26 points on 9-13 shooting, leading Utah State to a 78-58 win over Wyoming on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
“Another good win at home,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Wyoming certainly has been playing their best basketball of the year… They always play really, really hard and super aggressive… At the end of the day, we took care of business. Now we’ll go into our bye week. Even though it’s a six-game spread, it will be good for us and hopefully we’ll tighten a few things up and keep pressing forward.”
The Aggies looked to be in control early courtesy of a 10-0 run before the visiting Cowboys responded to take a brief 18-17 lead. USU responded in earnest, retaking the lead on a 9-2 run. With momentum, Utah State kept the pressure on through the remainder of the first half, going on a 14-0 run on their way to a 42-27 halftime lead.
“It was a battle for sure,” sophomore Justin Bean said. “They hung in there. In the first half especially, we didn’t do a great job handling the ball and handling their pressure. Some decisions that were pretty uncharacteristic for us. Coach told us in one of the media timeouts that we’ve got to play better and we’ve got to be smarter and trust each other more, and I thought we did that.”
The Aggies continued their run of impressive play following the break, increasing their lead to as large as 20 points in the early minutes of the second period. With the game at risk of getting out of hand, Wyoming attempted a comeback with a 14-5 run to trim the deficit to as few as 10 points with 6:53 remaining. The Cowboys were unable to to threaten Utah State’s lead further, however, as the Aggies closed the door on the last-place Cowboys via an 18-5 run.
“It’s not a time to practice or work on stuff,” junior Abel Porter said. “it’s just another conference game. It’s really important because we know what we’re playing for right now. We’re in a great position and every game matters the same, whether they’re San Diego State and haven’t lost yet or whether they’re Wyoming and have one conference win. Obviously, we started slow but I still thought that our mindset was in the right spot.”
To his 26 points, Merrill added five rebounds and four assists. Bean recorded his second career game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, finishing with 20 points and 14 boards on the night. Porter ended with 10 points and three assists. Sophomore Neemias Queta ended with a quiet eight points, but grabbed a game-leading 15 rebounds.
“I thought for the most part, we played great,” Porter said. “We had good energy and a good feel to us tonight. Bean and (Queta) were beasts on the board, obviously, and that really was great for us. And (Merrill) had an all-around great game. Wyoming kind of makes things messy when you play them, and I thought we had a great game tonight.”
The win puts Utah State at 22-7 on the season and 11-5 in Mountain West play. Courtesy of owning several tiebreakers, the Aggies are guaranteed second place for the conference tournament should USU win their final two games versus San Jose State and at New Mexico.
“At the end of the day, like Coach always tells us, we just have to be our best each day,” Bean said. “We have to play Aggie basketball and be the toughest team. Regardless of the outcome, we know that we’ve done our best. I think the last eight or nine games we’ve done that, minus the one at San Diego State. But it’s been fun to just see everyone come together and just excel down the stretch, trust each other and make plays.”
Utah State’s quest for the second seed in the MW will continue on Tuesday night versus San Jose State. The Aggies will also be celebrating Senior Night prior to the contest in honor of seniors Merrill, Brito and Roche Grootfam.
“I know those guys love being Aggies,” Bean said. “They’ve put their heart and souls into this team, this program and just into their game. It’s going to be harder for them obviously than it will be for me and the other guys, but I can’t say enough things about who they are as people and as leaders for this team and community. So, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be hard. We know we’re going to give them a good run and make sure we get a win for them and make sure they go out on a good note.”
Tip-off versus the Spartans is currently scheduled for 9:00 pm MST.