LAS VEGAS, Nev. - For the first time since joining the Mountain West Conference, Utah State men's basketball will advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament after a 78-75 victory over second-seeded Boise State. The semifinal appearance will be the first for Utah State since the 2011 season, when the Aggies went on to capture the WAC Tournament title.
Seventh-seeded Utah State was led by sophomore Sam Merrill with 28 points to go along with five rebounds, five assists and a steal. Fellow sophomore guard Koby McEwen tacked on 14 points, one steal and a team-high eight rebounds and six assists. Junior forward Dwayne Brown Jr. added 10 points and a board.
For the second straight game, Utah State had a sluggish start as Boise State took an 8-0 lead with 18:51 on the clock. USU brought it within four, 11-7, with 17:13 to go off of buckets from Brown and junior forward Quinn Taylor, along with a Merrill three. Boise State continued to build its advantage with a 7-0 run to lead by 11, 18-7, with 15:37 to play. The Broncos maintained the lead for the remainder of the half, leading by as many as 13, 36-23, with 3:11 to play. Merrill drained a three at the close of the half to bring the Aggies within eight, 40-32, at the break.
Boise State was able to extend the lead back out to 10, 51-41, at the start of the second half with 15:19 on the clock. Utah State fired back with a 14-3 run that included 10 straight points from Merrill to take USU's first lead of the game, 55-54, with 11:12 left to play. After a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Diogo Brito, Boise State used a 7-0 run to regain the lead, 63-58, with 8:05 to play. Treys from senior guard Julion Pearre and McEwen, along with four straight free throws from senior forward Alex Dargenton gave the Aggies the 70-68 advantage with four minutes to play.
Boise State led, 73-70, with 2:28 on the clock, but Utah State took back the lead, 77-73, with 31 seconds to play after a three from McEwen, free throw from Brown and Merrill's career-high-tying seventh 3-pointer of the night. A BSU layup made it a two-point game, 77-75, with 24 seconds to go. McEwen made one free throw with seven seconds remaining, and Boise State did not convert in its final possession as Utah State took a 78-75 victory.
Boise State was led by redshirt senior guard Lexus Williams with 24 points, senior guard Chandler Hutchison with 14, and sophomore guard Justinian Jessup and senior forward Chris Sengfelder each scored 11.
Utah State finished the game shooting 46.3 percent (25-of-54) from the floor, 56.0 percent (14-of-25) from behind the 3-point line and 77.8 percent (14-of-18) at the free throw line. Boise State shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) from the floor, 40.0 percent (10-of-25) from behind the 3-point line and 88.2 percent (15-of-17) at the free throw line.
The semifinal game is set for Friday, March 9, at 9:30 p.m. (MT), with the Aggies awaiting the winner of the late game between New Mexico and Wyoming.
Utah State men’s basketball news and information is available on Facebook (facebook.com/usumen’sbasketball) and on Twitter (@usubasketball). Fans can also get USU men’s basketball highlights on YouTube (youtube.com/utahstateathletics). Aggie fans can follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter (@usuathletics), on Facebook (facebook.com/usuathletics) or on Instagram (@usuathletics).
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