Utah State grinds out 76-59 win over Wyoming

With the snow falling, the Aggies made it rain.

The Utah State men’s basketball team went 10-20 from 3-point range and came away with a 76-59 victory over Wyoming on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, outscoring the Cowboys 39-22 in the second half. Both senior Quinn Taylor and freshman Neemias Queta registered double-doubles for the contest.

“At halftime, Coach (Smith) just told us to be players and go at them and play harder,” Queta said. “That’s what we did and we came out with the win.”

The Aggies started fast, with sophomore Abel Porter connecting on his first three 3-pointers of the game. Junior Sam Merrill followed suit, connecting on his first four shots as USU built a 23-12 lead in the first eight minutes of the game. Utah State’s lead soon evaporated, however, as the Aggies missed their final eight shots of the half to allow Wyoming to use a 15-5 run to tie the game at 37 heading into halftime.

“I don’t think it was more that we weren’t ready for it because we know every game matters,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have our edge, so Coach (Smith) kind of got on us for that… He told me and (Queta) that we needed to play better. We need to be players.”

Neither team was able to create separation over the first 10 minutes of the second half, with the two sides trading the lead back and forth but neither building a lead larger than four points. After a 3-pointer from Wyoming’s Justin James made the score 51-50 in favor of USU, the Aggie defense settled in, powering a 25-9 run over the final 10 minutes to allow Utah State to pull away with the victory.

The second half, that’s the type of basketball we’ve been playing all year,” Taylor said. “That’s the type of basketball we need to play to get where we need to go.”

Merrill finished with 19 points to lead the Aggies in scoring, also adding a team-high six assists. Queta finished with 14 points, all in the second half, while tallying 10 rebounds and four assists to register his fourth double-double in five games. Taylor finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Porter finished with 11 points plus four rebounds and four assists. Junior Diogo Brito added nine points while senior Dwayne Brown chipped in with eight points for USU.

After allowing Wyoming to shoot 61 percent from the field in the first half, the Utah State defense showed their might in the final 20 minutes, holding the Cowboys to 26.9 percent shooting in the second frame.

“It all starts on defense,” Queta said. “If you play good defense every single time and every single game, you’ll probably win it… I think that all we needed was to play good defense and be simple on offense and just share the ball.”

Jake Hendricks, a product of Sky View High School, scored six points and added four rebounds and one assist in his return to Cache Valley. Hendricks graduated from Sky View in 2016 before helping the College of Southern Idaho to the National Junior College Championship game. Justin James, the Mountain West’s leading scorer in points per game, led Wyoming with a game-high 26 points.

With the victory, the Aggies have now reached their highest season win total since joining the Mountain West in 2013. The season before, USU reached 21 wins in their final year in the WAC.

The Aggies next play on the road at Air Force, where USU has not won since 2016.

“Air Force is a top ten team for home court advantage,” head coach Craig Smith said, “in terms of… how much better they are at home than on the road. We’re going to have to play a full 40 minutes to take care of business on Saturday.”

Tipoff at Air Force is currently scheduled for Saturday at 2 pm MST.

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