LAS VEGAS — Ever since he was a kid, Sam Merrill has been a Utah State basketball fan with dreams of winning a championship and going to the NCAA Tournament.
That dream was fulfilled Saturday afternoon when he helped lead the Aggies to the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship with a 64-57 win over San Diego State. Merrill scored 24 points Saturday after getting 23 and 22 points, respectively, the previous two days and was named to the all-tournament team and MVP of the tournament.
“As someone who grew up a Utah State fan and grew up watching Utah State go to the tournament and win conference championships, this means the world to me,” Merrill said. “We’ve put in so much work ... and we’ve come together as a team. I still can’t believe it. It’s an incredible feeling.”
The former Bountiful High standout was the catalyst, as his coach Craig Smith put it, for a team that came together this year after being picked to finish ninth in preseason polls.
During the tournament, every time Merrill would go to the free-throw line, which he did a lot (27 free throw attempts), the Utah State faithful would chant “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
It could have applied to Merrill’s MWC regular-season honor, but technically it wasn’t correct because as the top player in the MWC he was the “Player of the Year.”
However, perhaps it was just foreshadowing of what was to come as Merrill was the definitely the MVP of the MWC tournament with his leadership and strong play.
Merrill said he could recall watching the Aggies win their last tournament title, back in 2011 in the WAC finals over Boise, and being disappointed that the Aggies were only given a No. 12 seed. He’s hoping to lead the Ags to greater heights this year.2 comments on this story
“Obviously it’s been eight years since we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, so to be part of this with this team and help the resurgence of this program, it’s been a fun ride,” he said.
But he said his goal wasn’t just to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“Actually my goal is to win an NCAA Tournament game. It’s been what, 2002, 2001, something like that (it was 2001) since Utah State’s won a tournament game,” he said. “I feel like we have a lot more left in the tank and we’re definitely going to show that wherever we end up next weekend.”