The Utah State men’s basketball team got back into the win column with a 79-62 win over Air Force on Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Junior guard Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 18 points, plus five rebounds and 12 assists.
“A lot of good performances,” head coach Craig Smith said. “Our veteran guys did a good job taking care of business.”
USU never trailed, starting the game quickly with a 7-2 run to build a lead the Aggies would never relinquish. Air Force trimmed the deficit to 27-23 with seven minutes remaining in the first half before Utah State closed the half on a 17-5 run to enter the locker rooms with a 44-28 lead. USU out-rebounded Air Force 23-6 in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s a tough game to have coming off of that loss to Nevada,” Merrill said. “Obviously, against Air Force, you have to be really locked in and there’s a lot of stuff you have to learn how to guard in a short time span. I thought we did a really good job defensively and got back to who we are a little bit offensively.”
In the second half, USU continued to keep the Falcons at bay, never allowing the lead to fall into single digits. Redshirt freshman guard Brock Miller buoyed the Aggies with three 3-point field goals in the second half, part of his 15-point night all coming from behind the arc.
“We had a really good game. We played really good defense against them,” freshman center Neemias Queta said. “We played really well on the offensive end, too, so it was a really good win for us.”
The win was a return to fundamentals for Utah State, as the Aggies out-rebounded the Falcons 39-19, with Queta leading the way with 10 rebounds to go along with 13 points for his second double-double of the season. Redshirt freshman Justin Bean also added seven boards.
“We work a lot on rebounding,” Queta said. “I think we have really good rebounders… so when we go to the boards, we will probably get them… We did our job today going to the boards and we were good on that.”
USU’s offense also saw a return to form, as the Aggies assisted on a season-high 86.2 percent of their field goals. Merrill led the effort with 12 assists, with a total of eight different players recording an assist on the night.
“We moved the ball really well and had a lot of assists,” Merrill said. “Assists mean that guys are making shots and Brock (Miller) was making a lot of shots tonight and Quinn (Taylor) was making a lot shots tonight, so that’s how it goes.”
Keaton Van Soelen led Air Force with 16 points. Lavelle Scottie scored 14 points on the night, with USU limiting the Falcons’ leading scorer to 5-19 shooting.
The win was USU’s first in MW play, and brings their overall record to 11-4, the team’s best start since the 2013-14 season. The Aggies will look to continue their momentum at Fresno State on Wednesday.
“They’ve had a really good year,” Merrill said. “They’re a good team, so it’s going to be fun. We draw and hit that game-winner at their place last year, and at home I think it went to overtime… So we’re excited to play them.”
Tip-off between the Aggies and Bulldogs is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 pm MST.