LOGAN — There is a reason that Utah State sophomore guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill are considered by some to be the best backcourt duo in the Mountain West Conference.
On Wednesday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, the sophomore tandem showed why.
McEwen and Merrill combined for 42 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds to help USU beat San Jose State 86-72 in the conference opener for both teams.
"That is what our team is designed to do," Utah State head coach Tim Duryea said. "Those two have a lot on them on both sides of the ball. We ask a lot of them defensively and, obviously, we ask a lot of them offensively. I thought they were both in a really good rhythm tonight."
McEwen, who was the 2016-17 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the first half. The first of his five 3-pointers on the night came at the 15:49 point of the first half and gave the Aggies an 8-2 lead early.
It was the closest that San Jose State got in the game as the Utah State defense forced 23 turnovers, scoring 36 points off those turnovers. The Aggies recorded 13 steals on the night, with Merrill picking up two of those.
After having only four points in the first half, Merrill scored 14 second-half points on 5-of-7 shooting, including a 4-of-6 performance from beyond the arc. Merrill also finished one assist shy of a double-double while only commiting one turnover on the evening.
Twenty eight of the 42 combined points came in the second half as USU was trying to put the game away. The duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers in the second half and only committed the one turnover.
"I thought for the first time all year both of them were just focused, had a great mental outlook, just locked in on both ends, seeing the floor clearly and just making the right play," Duryea said. "They had 14 assists and two turnovers combined. I just thought really good decision-makers tonight."
With injuries to Utah State's big men, McEwen and Merrill will be called upon to shoulder the load for the Aggies.
McEwen is averaging 12.9 points per game while Merrill averages a team-high 14.8 points per game. Both players are averaging a little over three rebounds per game.
"I think that's just Sam," McEwen said. "I don't really think that's me. He's that glue guy. He does what our team needs to do to win basketball games. I just follow his lead, so do the other guys."
Utah State will look for its fourth straight win when it heads to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State Saturday night.
The last time Utah State faced San Diego State, McEwen and Merrill combined for 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 66-62 home loss on Feb. 15.
If the Aggies want to pick up its fourth straight win and improve to 2-0 in Mountain West Conference play, its star backcourt will have to play well again.
"Just be confident in ourselves," McEwen said. "Executing the game plan. Just doing what we do. Believing in the things that got us here and executing it well. Playing hard and playing together. I feel like that right there and togetherness right there will help the consistency of our season."
Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias
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