COLORADO SPRINGS, Col. (ABC4 Sports) – For the first time in six years, the Utah State basketball team has reached the 20-win plateau.
The Aggies broke a close game open with a 13-2 run midway through the second half on its way to its ninth victory in its last 10 games, a 76-62 win at Air Force.
The trio of junior guards Sam Merrill and Diogo Brito, along with freshman center Neemias Queta, combined to score 48 points for the Aggies, who shot 46.4 percent from the field on the afternoon (26-of-56), including 36.7 percent from the 3-point line (11-of-30), and 81.3 percent from the free throw line (13-of-16).
“This was one of the games that, quite frankly, I’m most proud of our team on the year,” said head coach Craig Smith. “It’s a difficult place to play and it was kind of a choppy game, it felt like, for a long time. Another great road win and kind of a milestone in terms of getting 20 wins on the year. That gets us to 10 wins in league play and we have to keep moving forward with a big week next week.”
Utah State is now 20-6, 10-3 in the Mountain West Conference. This is the first time since the 2012-13 season that the Aggies have won at least 20 games.
Merrill led Utah State in scoring with 20 points, to go along with six assists and two rebounds. Queta added 17 points, six rebounds and one block, while Brito recorded the second double-double of his career with 11 points and a career-high-tying 11 rebounds. Brito stuffed the box score with a season-high four steals and a career-high two blocks. Sophomore guard Abel Porter also scored in double figures for USU with 10, to go along with five assists.
“We played really hard and we knew it as going to be tough,” Brito said. “We’ve been here before and this is really one of the toughest places to play in the league. We know that and other teams have felt that too. We really grinded it out and we were able to come out on top.”
Leading just 50-44 with 12:05 remaining in the second half following a basket by Air Force’s Lavelle Scottie, Utah State used its game-changing run to push its lead out to 63-46 with 7:42 to go. Redshirt freshman guard Brock Miller ignited the spurt with a 3-pointer and the Aggies led by double digits the rest of the way.
Scottie led all scorers in the game with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc and 2-of-4 from the free throw line. Ryan Swan chipped in 14 points for the Falcons (10-15, 5-7 MW), who had their two-game home winning streak against the Aggies snapped.
Air Force shot 42.0 percent on the day (21-of-50), including 38.9 percent from beyond the arc (7-of-18), and 68.4 percent from the charity stripe (13-of-19).
Behind Brito’s 11 rebounds, the Aggies outrebounded the Falcons 37-28 and had 14 assists on 26 field goals.
Utah State will be back in action on Wednesday, Feb. 20, when the Aggies welcome New Mexico to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum at 9:00 p.m.