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Aggies advance to Mountain West Tournament championship game

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LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – The Aggies train keeps on rolling.

Sam Merrill scored 22 points, while Diogo Brito added 20 points off the bench, as Utah State beat up Fresno State in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals, 85-60.

The Aggies took all the suspense out of the game with a dominating performance right out of the gates, leading by 23 at the half, and building the lead to as high as 35 in the second half.

This is the first time Utah State has played for a Mountain West Tournament championship. The Aggies will face San Diego State, an upset winner over Nevada in the other semifinal, 65-56.

“Our guys played a great game tonight,” head coach Craig Smith said. “We played a very good team. And we played a great game on both ends of the floor. And we played well on offense but I thought we were even better defensively. They only had six offensive rebounds, and we hold them to 35 percent in the first half.”

With the win, Utah State improves to  27-6 on the year, and all but locks up an NCAA bid regardless of what happens in the championship game.

Neemias Queta had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Abel Porter had 11 points and Brock Miller chipped in with 10.

Brito played one of his best games of the season, scoring 20 points, making four of six three-pointers, to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

“It’s something that we work a lot in practice, which is stop and score,” Brito. “And today that was huge for us, getting stops and just being able to convert almost every single time. Coach telling us, three straight stops and getting a lot of open shots and creating a lot of shots for each other through just ball movement. So, yeah, the ball energy and those shots falling all the time, or most of the time, definitely kept us with a good confidence.”

In their first two meetings of the season, each team won on the other’s home court by a single point. But this game quickly turned into a blowout.

The Aggies made 53 percent of its shots in the first half, including 8 of 18 from beyond the arc and led 50-27 at the break.

Unlike Thursday’s win over New Mexico when they committed 24 turnovers, the Aggies took care of the ball, losing the ball just 9 times. They also had 23 assists on 32 made baskets and held the Bulldogs to just 40 percent shooting.

Fresno State came into the game averaging 11 three-pointers per game, but were held to just 5 of 26 from 3-point range.

“When we’re rolling like that defensively that ignites our offense,”  Merrill said. “And I thought we did a great job moving the ball. We hit shots. We finished at the rim. Got a little sloppy there in the second half. But, yeah, you could definitely make a case for that being our best performance of the year.”

The Aggies have now won 16 of its last 17 games, with its only loss coming to San Diego State back on February 9th, 68-63. But the Aggies did record their first win over the Aztecs since joining the Mountain West in January.

“It’s something we’ve been told that every single game we play San Diego State we’ve never beaten them,” Brito said. “We’ve never beaten them. You do have that in your mind that you’ve got to beat them sometime. When we did, it felt good. But I thought the main difference was that when we beat them, we just believed — we went into the game knowing that we could beat them. We studied them really hard and just that mindset that we can beat these guys and when we did, you know, it just felt good.”

Tipoff is set for 4:00 p.m. mountain time at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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