LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) – Both Utah State and UNLV struggled to score in the first half, with the game tied at 24 going into the break. The Aggies (19-7, 15-4 MWC) outscored UNLV (12-15, 8-10 MWC) 50 to 29 in the second half to win big, 74-53.
“We started off pretty slow in the first half, but as it went on we started to pick it up,” said Marco Anthony, who had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “The meeting at halftime was about taking it up another notch, and we did that. It led us to the win against a very talented team.”
Neemias Queta had his seventh straight double-double, leading the Aggies with 18 points and 13 rebounds. He scored 13 points in the second half as he helped the second seed Aggies take over.
“It was a bit of a slow start, kind of a root canal for both teams on the offensive end,” said Utah State head coach Craig Smith. “Both teams defended really well. Our guys did a great job of self-correcting and really played connected in the second half. We cleaned up the offensive end. In the first half we had eight turnovers and in the second half we only had two.”
Utah State had 18 assists on 28 made field goals, and outrebounded UNLV 45-32. Justin Bean joined Anthony, Queta, and Rollie Worster in double-figure scoring. Worster filled up the stat sheet for the Aggies, finishing with 14 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and two steals. Bryce Hamilton had 16 points and five rebounds for the Rebels.
“We played with a lot more purpose and we settled in,” Smith said of his team’s second-half performance. “We have a lot of guys who have never played in this tournament. We showed some tentativeness and didn’t execute things the way we normally do, then we really settled in, in that second half.”
The Aggies shot 45.2 percent from the field on the night (28-of-62), including 33.3 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-18), and 80.0 percent at the charity stripe (12-of-15).UNLV shot just 32.2 percent from the field (19-of-59), including 27.3 percent from 3-point range (6-of-22).
This marks the fourth time in as many years that USU has reached the semis after not advancing past the quarterfinals in each of its first four seasons in the Mountain West. Craig Smith has not lost a Mountain West Tournament game, boasting a record of 7-0.
Utah State returns to action on Friday, when the Aggies play in the semifinals of the tournament at 10 p.m. (MT).