We fought hard and looked like we were in good shape when we went up six. We just couldn't get them stopped. They kept scoring and we kept missing. —Utah State coach Stew Morrill
LOGAN — It might just have been the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, but Wednesday night's championship game had all the makings of a big-time title bout. In the end, Mercer was able to withstand a late second half Utah State run to take home the CIT title, clawing to a 70-67 win over the Aggies.
It looked like the Aggies were dead to rights in the second half, trailing by as much as 10 midway through the half. Then the Aggies made an incredible run highlighted by back-to-back-to-back dunks by Kyisean Reed that sent the home crowd into a frenzy rarely seen, even by Spectrum standards. The push was capped by a Danny Berger 3-pointer to put the Aggies up 55-49 with 4:10 left. Reed finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Berger continued his recent hot streak with 13 points.
"We made a game of it in the second half," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "We fought hard and looked like we were in good shape when we went up six. We just couldn't get them stopped. They kept scoring and we kept missing."
The Bears were able to withstand the Aggie haymakers and find their legs following the big Utah State run. Mercer's Bud Thomas hit a huge 3 as the shot clock expired to bring Mercer back within one and teammate Travis Smith canned a trey of his own with 40 seconds to go to put the Bears up 63-59. From there Mercer hit seven of their eight free throws down the stretch to keep the Aggies at bay. Brockeith Pane got one final look with the chance to tie, taking the ball the length of the floor with four seconds left, but his desperation heave came up just short.
"It was a good look for how much time was left," USU's Preston Medlin said.
Pane, Medlin and Morgan Grim were all named to the 2012 CIT All-Tournament team. Pane finished with 10 points and five assists, but shot just 3-for-10 from the field. Medlin also struggled from the field going 4-for-10 with 14 points and Grim battled foul trouble and a big Mercer front line to finish with nine points and six rebounds.
Justin Cecil, Travis Smith and Lanston Hall represented the Bears on the All-Tournament squad. Hall took home tournament MVP honors thanks in part to the 16 points, six rebounds and four assists he collected in the title game. The Bears took home won their final three tournament games on the road at Old Dominion, Fairfield and Utah State in route to the championship.
"Mercer is a real good basketball team," Morrill said. "You got to believe they deserve to win this tournament after winning three games on the road."
Despite a disappointing finish the Aggies had their heads held high in the locker room after the game, proud of what they accomplished over the final few weeks of the season.
"It's been a really good experience for us. I've told the guys that for the last two games, that no matter what happens it's been a positive thing," Morrill said. "It was a good way to end the year, winning some games. It's tough losing at home like this, but all in all it's been good for us."
The sentiment was shared by Medlin, who came on strong in the second half of the season and during the CIT to set himself up as a contender for preseason WAC Player of the Year. He was already thinking of next season following the game.
"We fought hard to get to 21-16 and that's something that we're proud of," said Medlin. "We went out and had fun, had a huge turnaround and started doing what we know how to do. It was a good tournament. We got five extra games on the season, which most teams don't get to see. We just need to carry it over to next year."
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.