Merrill, Queta lead Utah State to 69-54 victory over UNLV

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Neemias Queta scores 21 points, while Sam Merrill adds 20

Utah State guard Sam Merrill, left, celebrates after forcing a jump ball against UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Neemias Queta scored a season-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half alone, to help Utah State rally from eight points down and beat UNLV 69-54 on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

Sam Merrill added 20 points, including 15 during span of 11 minutes, 58 seconds in the second half. His 3-pointer with 7:53 to go in the contest gave the Aggies (18-7, 7-5 Mountain West) the lead back for good. It also ignited a game-ending 21-6 run for the hosts.

With his 20 points on Wednesday, Merrill moved one step closer to becoming just the fourth Aggie in school history to surpass 2,000 career points. He is 21 shy of eclipsing that plateau.

“It was almost like two different games,” said head coach Craig Smith. “Early on I thought we had some clean stuff, it just didn’t fall. The consistent part was we defended well all night long. They really heated us up. We were kind of tentative. We were over-dribbling and over-handling, not playing connected. Although, all but four of our baskets in the first half were assisted. So the point is, when you share the ball, good things happen.”

“Really, really good atmosphere again, the students really brought it,” Merrill said. :That really helped us out in the second half.”

Bryce Hamilton led the Runnin’ Rebels (11-13, 6-5 MW) with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Amauri Hardy chipped in 10 points.

UNLV led 29-27 at the break and opened the second half on a 6-0 run, capped by Hamilton’s layup that gave the Runnin’ Rebels their largest lead of the night at 35-27.

Utah State methodically chipped away at the deficit until Merrill knocked down a couple of free throws to square the game at 44-apiece with 10:07 to go. Thirty-five seconds later, he made two more charity shots to give the hosts their first lead since the 1:30 mark of the first half.

Though he didn’t score in double figures, finishing with six points, Justin Bean grabbed double-digit rebounds for the 17th time this year as he tallied a game-high 11 boards. Queta added six rebounds, a season-high-tying five assists and two blocks in a career-high-tying 36 minutes played.

The Aggies limited the Runnin’ Rebels to just 38.5 percent shooting from the field (20-of-52), including 26.7 percent from 3-point range (4-of-15). UNLV’s 54 points are its fewest in a Mountain West game this season and its second-fewest in any game this year. Furthermore, Utah State has now held three of its last five Mountain West opponents to under 55 points.

USU shot 50.0 percent on the night, knocking down 24 of its 48 shots from the field. The Aggies made good on 37.5 percent of their shots from downtown (6-of-16) and converted on 75.0 percent of their free throw attempts (15-of-20).

Behind Queta’s five helpers, Utah State had 19 assists on 24 baskets. Merrill and Abel Porter chipped in four assists apiece. The Aggies also recorded nine steals and scored 13 points off of 14 UNLV turnovers.

“We played a really good game, especially in the second half,” Queta said. “UNLV is a really good team, they’re really good defensively and they try to pressure teams. We handled their press really well, and our press was really effective too. Our zone, too. We played a really good game defensively.”

Utah State returns to the court on Saturday, Feb. 8, when the Aggies welcome Boise State (16-8, 8-4 MW), to the Spectrum.

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