FORT COLLINS, Colo. (ABC4 Sports) – Sam Merrill joined an elite club Tuesday night after scoring his 2,000th career point in the first half of Utah State’s thrilling 75-72 victory over Colorado State Tuesday night.
With 2,028 points, Merrill passed Wayne Estes and moved into third place on Utah State’s all-time scoring list behind only, Jaycee Carroll (2,522) and Greg Grant (2,127).
Merrill scored 20 of his game-high 32 points in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer with 27.9 seconds to go and a couple of free throws after the Rams had pulled to within two.
With the victory, Utah State improved to 20-7 on the year, 9-5 in the Mountain West Conference, and into second place behind San Diego State.
“This tonight was obviously a big game battling for second place in the league and for us specifically trying to stay in the at-large conversation,” Merrill said. “I like to say the biggest games bring out the best in me, but like I said, we had a ton of guys step up and make a lot of plays tonight.”
After Adam Thistlewood made it 73-72 with a 3-pointer from the left wing, Utah State’s Abel Porter was fouled with seven seconds left and the junior guard calmly sank both free throws to give the Aggies their final margin of victory.
The win wasn’t sealed for Utah State until Thistlewood’s potential game-tying 3-pointer from right in front of the CSU bench came up short and Neemias Queta corralled his 11th rebound of the game.
Queta finished with a double-double for the Aggies (20-7, 9-5 MW) as he also scored 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field while battling early foul trouble. Diogo Brito chipped in 11 points off the bench for Utah State, which pulled into a second-place tie in the conference, joining Boise State, which beat Air Force on Tuesday.
Merrill shot 12-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range, and a perfect 2-of-2 from the free throw line. He also had a team-high five assists and four rebounds.
Four different players scored in double figures for the Rams (17-9, 8-5 MW) as Isaiah Stevens had 19, Nico Carvacho had 12, Thistlewood had 10 and David Roddy also had 10. CSU lost for just the second time in the last 10 games – both to Utah State.
The Aggies, who led from start to finish Tuesday night, shot 50.0 percent from the field (31-of-62), including 33.3 percent from downtown (9-of-27). Utah State only went to the free throw line four times, but made all four freebies.
Colorado State shot 51.7 percent on the night (30-of-58), including 36.4 percent from beyond the arc (8-of-22). The Rams only knocked down four of their eight free throw tries.
Utah State led 37-30 at halftime and by as many as 12 in the second half (49-37) before Colorado State made things interesting.
Winners of three straight and six out of their last seven games, the Aggies will remain on the road this weekend as Utah State takes on Fresno State on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8:00 p.m.