SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sam Merrill scored 21 points Saturday and Utah State held Florida without a field goal for six minutes down the stretch to win 65-62 in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Merrill went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and added nine rebounds and five assists. Utah State won despite losing hard-luck center Neemias Queta to an injury in the first half.
The Aggies (12-2) improved to 3-0 in games decided by a one-possession margin. Florida (7-4) continued to struggle after being ranked sixth in the preseason.
The Gators missed their first 14 shots, and missed seven in a row in the final minutes after taking a 55-54 lead. Diogo Brito’s basket with 4:15 left put the Aggies ahead to stay, and he went 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the final 25 seconds.
“Credit to our guys. I thought Sam Merrill was incredibly outstanding tonight," Utah State coach Craig Smith said. "Sam’s the reigning Mountain West player of the year, and he just does everything for us. We played really connected. The start was a little bit of a root canal, tie game at halftime … When you hold a team like Florida to 20-for-62 from the field and 4-for-17 from three, you are doing great things.
"We’re a very good rebounding team, and at the end of the day, we’re a very connected group. Our guys stayed together to make enough plays to find a way to win."
Senior Kerry Blackshear led Florida with 22 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. He went 15 for 17 from the free throw line.
The Gators outrebounded the tallest team in the nation 41-33 but shot only 32 percent, including 4 for 17 from 3-point range.
Justin Bean had 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Utah State.
Queta, who recently returned from a knee injury, limped to the locker room in the first half. He went to the floor hard and was shaken up when he collided with a Florida player and was called for an offensive foul.
Queta averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds last season as a freshman.
The Aggies were 34th in votes in the latest AP poll, and two wins this week might not be enough for them to crack the Top 25.
Florida continues to be a puzzle with an offense that has failed to top 70 points seven times.
The Gators play host to Long Beach State on Dec. 28, their final non-conference game before beginning Southeastern Conference play.
Utah State plays host to Eastern Oregon on Dec. 28.