LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – This will go down as maybe the biggest regular season victory in Utah State history.
Sam Merrill scored 29 points and Utah State beat No. 12 Nevada 81-76 on Saturday night to take over the Mountain West Conference lead.
Diogo Btrito added 15 points and eight rebounds, and Neemias Queta had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Aggies (24-6, 14-3). They won their sixth straight game and snapped a five-game losing streak in the series.
This was Utah State’s first victory over a top-25 team in 12 years.
“What a fantastic win for the Aggies,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Nevada is really good and that can’t be understated. They are so complete and put so much pressure on you at every single position. I just can’t put it into words right now how huge of a win this was for our program against a tremendous team in Nevada.”
“Very energetic atmosphere,” Merrill said. “The crowd was unbelievable. We couldn’t have done that without them. They helped more than people realized. We’re so grateful for them. We found a way to win the game. Obviously, a great feeling to come away with the win there.”
Caleb Martin had 23 points and nine rebounds for the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3) in their second loss in four games
Queta threw down a hammer dunk and Merrill followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel an 8-0 run that gave the Aggies a 19-12 lead. Merrill scored 15 of his 17 first-half points in the first 12 minutes. His final basket in that stretch put Utah State up 23-14.
Nevada closed the gap with five straight baskets. The final one — Caleb Martin’s 3-pointer — cut Utah State’s lead to 28-27. The Wolf Pack weren’t able to overtake the Aggies before halftime. Queta and Brito scored back-to-back baskets to keep Utah State in front and a scoop shot from Dwayne Brown, Jr. pushed the lead to 37-31 heading into the final minute of the half.
The Aggies led 46-36 early in the second half behind back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brock Miller. Utah State led by as many as 13 points, going up 56-43 on back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brito.
The Wolfpack used a 10-1 run to cut Utah State’s lead to 65-63. Brito hit a jumper with 4:05 left to keep Nevada from erasing the lead entirely. Nevada could not draw any closer after having several players foul out over the final three minutes. The Aggies hit 7 of 8 free throws and Brito drove for a layup in the final minute.
“It was a very physical game,” Brito said. “Eventually, we fed off our crowd because they were huge tonight. The second half, we got in a little bit of foul trouble, but the fact that we were able to stay in the game and keep the lead was a really good sign of our toughness. The overall team effort that guys had to do whatever they needed to do even though they were not playing in their usual position, that was huge for us. Fortunately, we came out with the win.”
Utah State has one game remaining, Tuesday at Colorado State, before the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Nevada has two games left. If the teams finish in a tie, the Wolf Pack will win the tiebreaker and get the #1 seed.
There was chaos after the game near the Nevada locker room as Jordan Caroline punched a fire extinguisher, shattering the glass, and was screaming about how he was treated when Utah State fans stormed the court.
Nevada did not hold a post-game press conference.
Utah State athletic director John Hartwell released the following statement:
“After being notified of an incident in the hallway of the locker rooms after the completion of the game, I have been consulting with Mountain West Senior Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly, who was in attendance at the game, and Nevada Deputy AD Rory Hickok, who was also in attendance at the game. In addition, I have spoken by phone with Nevada AD Doug Knuth and we will continue to gather information, including surveillance videos of exactly what happened, and work closely with the Mountain West Conference and the University of Nevada to determine what started the situation and how we are going to deal with those involved.”