LOGAN — With two games left in the regular season, Utah State's men’s basketball team is rolling — and the Aggies have the No. 2 seed in the conference squarely in their sights.
Thank you, Sam Merrill.
Merrill poured in 26 points, and Justin Bean added 20 points and 14 rebounds to help Utah State pull away from hapless Wyoming 78-58 on Wednesday night at the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum.
Neemias Queta had 8 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots for Utah State, which outrebounded the Pokes (6-21, 1-14 MW) 42-25 on the glass. Abel Porter supplied 10 points for USU, which improved to 22-7 and 11-5 in the Mountain West with its fifth straight victory.
"We had a great start to the second half," said Utah State coach Craig Smith, who became the fastest coach to 50 wins in Aggie basketball history at 50-14 in his second season. "Then we kind of played a little tentatively with six turnovers in a short amount of time. They cut it to 10, then we were able to answer the bell. Sam was really good; 9 for 13 from the field with 26 points. Bean with 20 and 14 was outstanding. Neemi had 8 and 15.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a box score with two guys on the same team with 15 and 14 rebounds. Certainly that was a huge piece of the game."
Greg Milton had 10 points and four rebounds for the Cowboys, and teammate TJ Taylor scored 16 points.
After a slow start, Merrill hit his second triple of the game to help launch a 14-2 run and the Aggies to a 42-27 halftime lead. The senior from Bountiful made just two shots from the field over the first 15 minutes but ended the half with a flurry to finish with 12 points, two rebounds and two assists at the break.
Merrill capped a 7-2 run with a 3-pointer that put Utah State up by 20, 49-29, just 90 seconds into the half. The rest was just cosmetic for the Aggies’ eighth win in the past nine games.
"It was a battle, for sure," Bean said after the game. "They hung in there. In the first half especially, we didn’t do a great job of handling the ball or their pressure. We made some decisions that were pretty uncharacteristic to us.
"In the end, we were able to make tough shots and make plays for each other. We got the win. It was a good win for us."
Currently a bubble team that rates among the "Last Four In" by ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the Aggies play their final home game of the regular season next Tuesday, Feb. 25 (9 p.m. MT, ESPN2). The regular-season finale is next Saturday, Feb. 29, at New Mexico (8 p.m. MT, CBS Sports).