LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – Great teams are able to pull out victories when they are not at their best. Utah State was definitely not at their best in the Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinals against New Mexico, but still had enough to beat the Lobos.
Despite committing a season-high 24 turnovers, which led to 22 New Mexico points, the Aggies moved on to the semifinals befhind 23 points from Sam Merrill and 14 points and 15 rebounds from Justin Bean.
“Obviously, we showed a little bit of rust,” said Merrill, who hadn’t played a game in 9 days. “We had 24 turnovers, but it felt like 35, 40 turnovers. Like Coach said, New Mexico is a good team. They’re a really tough team to beat.”
“They got up by 8, and guys in the huddle were like we’ve got to find a way to win, we’ve got to find a way to win,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Give our guys credit. We really stayed in attack mode.”
Neemias Queta added 16 points and 6 blocked shots, while Diogo Brito added 14 points off the bench as the Aggies improved to 26-6 on the season.
“We weren’t really smart today the way we played in the first half,” said Bean. “We didn’t play our basketball turning the ball over more than we usually do. But things that don’t show up in the stat sheet are toughness and grit and this team has that.”
New Mexico led 78-76 with 3:24 to go after Anthony Mathis hit a 3-pointer, but sophomore guard Abel Porter gave the Aggies the lead for good when he converted an old fashioned three-point play with 3:14 to go.
Abel Porter ignited a game-changing 12-2 run for the Aggies.
New Mexico got 25 points from Vance Jackson, 16 from Corey Manigualt and 14 from Anthony Mathis. The Lobos shot just 38.9 percent from the field (28-of-72), including 34.5 percent from 3-point range (10-of-29), and 81.0 percent from the free throw line (17-of-21).
The Aggies dominated the boards, outrebounding New Mexico 46-28. Bean grabbed a career-high 15 boards, while senior forward Quinn Taylor pulled down eight.
Utah State improved to 21-20 all-time in first-round/quarterfinal games and 44-32 all-time in conference tournament games.
USU enjoyed a 36-32 advantage in points in the paint and tallied a total of seven blocks, marking the 15th time this season the Aggies have blocked at least five shots in a game.
Utah State will next take on Fresno State in the semifinals Friday at 9:30 p.m. mountain time. The Aggies and Bulldogs split their two meetings this season.