LOGAN — Utah State reached double-digit wins before the end of the 2018 calendar year.
Sam Merrill poured in 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting to lead Utah State to a 84-57 win over NAIA Eastern Oregon to wrap up nonconference play Friday night at the Spectrum.
The former Bountiful star drained four 3-pointers and added three assists, three steals and a vicious left-handed blocked shot for Utah State, which opens Mountain West play at 9 p.m. MT Jan. 2 at No. 6 Nevada.
"Obviously we didn’t get off to a great start, but I thought that we really responded well defensively," Merrill said after the game. "They played a little bit of a different 3-2 zone, (and it) took us a little bit to get that figured out, but once we did, I thought we did what we needed to do. I’m happy to come out with a win in the last nonconference game.”
Neemias Queta added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Aggies (10-3), and Justin Bean contributed 12 points and seven boards.
With the win, Utah State coach Craig Smith is off to the best start by a first-year Aggie coach in program history. Ladell Anderson went 9-4 to open the 1961-62 season.
Jordan May had 16 points and three assists to lead the Mountaineers (8-9), who got 10 points and eight rebounds from Jarek Schetzle.
The Aggies struggled early, unable to lead by more than three until Merrill’s three-point play gave the Aggies a 19-15 advantage with 8:25 left in the first half.
Merrill erupted for 20 points and two steals in the first half, pacing a 21-7 run that put the Aggies on top 33-18 en route to a 45-26 lead at the break.
Merrill was held scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but scored back-to-back 3-pointers just 33 seconds apart to help Utah State pull away for good with 8:11 to go.
"Our nonconference play is over, and I loved what we did. Now the second part of the year is league play, and then the last part of the year is postseason play," Smith said. "You look at the Mountain West, obviously Nevada is one of what, five undefeated teams in the country, ranked No. 6. There’s been some other teams, including us, that I feel like you’ve really known what you’re going to get night to night."