Sam Merrill scores 24 points as Utah State pulls away from Fresno State, 71-57

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Aggies improve to 21-7, 10-5 in Mountain West Conference

FRESNO, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – Sam Merrill scored 24 points and sophomore forward Justin Bean recorded his 13th double-double of the season to lead Utah State to a 71-59 victory over Fresno State on Saturday night at the Save Mart Center.

Merrill, who became just the fourth player in USU men’s basketball history to eclipse the career 2,000-point mark in the Aggies’ game at Colorado State earlier this week, played all 40 minutes against the Bulldogs. Merrill moved ahead of former Fresno State Bulldog Marvelle Harris for fifth in Mountain West history with 2.052 career points. He shot 8-of-15 from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line, to go along with four rebounds and four assists.

Bean finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Diogo Brito added 10 points off the bench for the Aggies (21-7, 10-5 Mountain West), who led wire-to-wire on Saturday. Utah State is a perfect 28-0 over the last two years when Brito scores in double figures.

Noah Blackwell led the Bulldogs (9-17, 5-10 MW) with 13 points and Nate Grimes had a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Merrill hit a 3-pointer to give Utah State a 41-29 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the game, but Fresno State fought its way back into it. The Bulldogs used a 15-4 run, capped by back-to-back 3-balls from Blackwell, to pare the deficit to 45-44 with 10:47 left.

Following a timeout by the Aggies, junior forward Alphonso Anderson connected on a 3-point to make it 48-44, but Niven Hart answered at the other end for Fresno State with a trey of his own just 32 seconds later.

That’s as close as the Bulldogs would get the rest of the way, however. Brito ignited an 8-0 run for the visitors with a 3-pointer to push the lead out to 56-47.

Fresno State made one final run at the Aggies, pulling to within three with 6:12 remaining, but Brito came up clutch again for Utah State when he sparked a 15-6 game-ending run with his second and final 3-pointer of the night.

USU led by as many as 13 points in the first half before settling on a 31-23 advantage at halftime.

The Aggies shot 44.1 percent (26-of-59) from the field, including 40.9 percent from 3-point range (9-of-22), and 71.4 percent from the free throw line (10-14). They also outrebounded the hosts 44-29, leading to 17 second-chance points, and scored nine points off of nine Fresno State turnovers.

The Bulldogs shot 37.7 percent (20-of-53) from the field, including 36.4 percent from beyond the arc (12-of-33), and 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from the charity stripe.

Winners of four straight and seven out of their last eight games, the Aggies return home to take on Wyoming on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

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