LOGAN — Utah State senior center Quinn Taylor flirted with a triple-double Wednesday night, racking up eight points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine assists in an easy win over San Jose State.
But teammate Sam Merrill wasn’t all that impressed.
“Yeah, but he couldn’t get one thing over double digits,” Merrill quipped during USU’s postgame press conference, smiling in the direction of Taylor, who was sitting on a cooler nearby.
Taylor should have responded to Merrill’s playful jab by pointing out the Aggies could have technically beat San Jose State without Merrill. The senior guard put up only 29 points for a Utah State team that won by 30.
“I think we came out and played really well offensively. We passed the ball really well, and had 28 assists on 35 made field goals,” Taylor said following the Aggies’ 103-73 rout of the Spartans. “... Offensively we were really flowing and could get anything we wanted.”
The victory was the fifth in a row for Utah State (6-2 in the Mountain West, 16-5 overall), which has won 23 of the last 24 games against the Spartans and 27 straight home contests against San Jose State (0-8, 3-17).
Merrill powered the Aggies’ offensive engine Wednesday, going 8 for 13 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. The Bountiful High product also added eight assists against just one turnover while logging only 30 minutes.
“I’ve only been shooting about 30 percent from 3 in conference, so I’ve been putting in a little bit of extra work,” Merrill said. “... It’s pretty relieving, because I put a lot of expectations on myself. So, to finally be able to hit some open shots felt good.”
The 103 points are a season-high for the Aggies, who played 11 players and had all 11 score at least two points and grab at least one rebound.
Freshman guard Brock Miller finished with 14 points despite going just 3 of 14 from 3-point range, while freshman center Neemias Queta (11 points, 11 rebounds) and freshman guard Tauriawn Knight (11 points) also reached double figures in scoring.
As a team, Utah State shot 48.6 percent for the game, while going 11 of 37 from 3-point range. A near-perfect, 22-for-24 effort at the free-throw line and a mere eight turnovers helped the home team stretch its advantage to as many as 31 points in the second half.
“I thought our guys played well,” USU head coach Craig Smith declared. “Certainly offensively. I thought we were really grooving.”
The Spartans, who have lost 11 straight games, shot a very respectable 45.5 percent and were only outrebounded 38-35, but SJSU connected on just 5 of 14 shots from 3-point range and only 18 of 27 from the free-throw line.
Junior forward Michael Steadman put up a team-high 20 points for the visitors, while sophomore swingman Noah Baumann added 15. But Baumann, who put up 29 points two weeks ago in USU’s 81-63 win at San Jose, was limited to just one point in the second half.
Thanks to Baumann’s hot hand in the first half, San Jose State managed to hang with the Aggies early on, but with a three-point lead, Utah State suddenly turned up the defensive intensity and held the Spartans without a field goal for 13 straight possessions. That helped Utah State stretch its advantage to as many as 18 points in the first half, as well as a couple of high-degree-of-difficulty 3-pointers by Merrill.
With about five minutes left before halftime, the ball was pinballed around by several Aggies before ending up in the hands of Merrill in the left corner, who calmly drained the trey while falling towards the baseline.
Then Utah State closed out the half in wild fashion, getting Miller’s first 3-pointer with mere seconds left to go up, 48-31. However, an inadvertent foul by Diogo Brito sent the Spartans to the free throw line with two seconds left, but SJSU guard Brae Ivey made the mistake of draining both attempts, giving the Aggies an opportunity to call timeout and set up a play.
Taylor promptly fired off a pass from the baseline to Merrill beyond the half-court line, and the junior calmly buried a 3-pointer from about 35 feet out at the buzzer to leave the home team up, 51-33, at intermission.
“Fortunately that one went in; I didn’t think it was going in. I thought it was going to airball short,” Merrill admitted.
Wednesday’s victory coupled with Fresno State’s 75-62 win at Wyoming leave the Aggies in a two-way tie for second place with the Bulldogs (6-2, 15-5), a game behind frontrunner Nevada (7-1, 20-1).3 comments on this story
Utah State will host fourth-place UNLV (5-3, 11-9) Saturday afternoon at the Spectrum, and Smith is hoping for another raucous crowd for the Rebels.
“What an electric atmosphere tonight,” Smith said of the crowd of 6,599, buoyed by an inspired student crowd wearing free “Spectrum Magic” shirts.
“The HURD was awesome in support of us and the energy and environment, and they were giving the officials the business when they needed to, so that was good. What a great home court tonight. That was cool. Hopefully we can do it again on Saturday.”