They didn’t need any Spectrum Magic Wednesday night, but the loud and boisterous turnout was much appreciated by the Aggies.
Free T-shirts were given to the students to celebrate the magic of the homecourt of the Utah State men’s basketball team. The Aggies went out and took care of business against visiting San Jose State to the delight of the 6,599 fans in attendance. USU led for nearly 37 minutes in a 103-73 Mountain West victory at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
“I thought we came out and did a great job offensively,” said Aggie guard Sam Merrill, who finished with a game-best 29 points and also dished out eight assists. “We went on a couple of good runs there toward the end of the first half that allowed us to get some separation. It wasn’t our best game defensively, but you have to give a lot of credit to them (Spartans). They did stuff that they did a lot better than at their place, and I don’t think we were expecting that. Give them credit, but offensively I thought we did a really good job, and the crowd was great, so we came out with the win.”
All 11 Aggies (16-5, 6-2 MW) that saw action scored and grabbed at least one rebound as the team finished with its most points of the season. It was the fifth straight win for USU, while SJSU (3-17, 0-8) dropped its 11th straight.
“It was a good win; we took care of business at home,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “... Great team effort. … It’s fun to see. We wanted to get guys in there and get going. We wanted to keep guys fresh and keep on the attack.”
The Aggies certainly did that. Every time the Spartans seemed to start to chip away at the mostly double-digit lead, USU answered. And the scoring came from everyone.
Joining Merrill in double figures was Brock Miller (14 points), Neemias Queta (11) and Tauriawn Knight (11). Abel Porter, Quinn Taylor and Justin Bean each finished with eight points.
“I thought our guys played well,” Smith said. “Certainly offensively, I thought we were really grooving. We were really passing the ball — 28 assists to eight turnovers really stands out. That’s what we’ve been doing lately. The last five or six games we’ve been really passing it and getting into some easy baskets. You have Quinn Taylor that almost gets a triple-double.”
The senior did indeed flirt with a triple-double. Taylor finished with the eight points, a career-high nine assists and eight rebounds. He also took some ribbing from Merrill.
“He (Taylor) couldn’t get one thing over double digits; it’s embarrassing” Merrill quipped as Taylor sat nearby chuckling. “... We are about being balanced. We don’t have one guy on this team that is going to carry us to where we want to go. We are going to have to do it together.”
Queta picked up his fourth double of the season with a game-best 11 rebounds. He left the game with 7:40 to play after landing hard and awkwardly on his back. The center was walking around after the game.
The Spartans were led by Michael Steadman, who came off the bench to score 20 points. Noah Baumann chipped in 15.
After five lead changes and two ties in the early going of the opening half, the Aggies got a three-point play from Knight and a 3-pointer by Diogo Brito to get a little breathing room. The trey gave the hosts a 19-14 lead with 13:16 left in the first half. The Aggies would not trail again.
A rebound bucket by Taylor sparked 11 unanswered points and 16-1 run. The Spartans went more than seven minutes between field goals. Five different USU players scored during the surge. Merrill had a wild 3-point shot to beat the shot clock during the run.
Just like it began, the Aggies capped the run with a rebound basket, only this time it was Knight. He gave USU a 37-19 lead with 4:04 until the break.
The Spartans clawed back within 43-31 with a minute before the break, but the Aggies responded by outscoring SJSU 8-2 during the final 40 seconds of the first half. Merrill took a long inbound pass from Taylor and drilled a 45-foot shoot just as the half came to a close. USU took a 51-33 lead into intermission.
Merrill scored the first five points to start the second half, and the Aggies were up by 20 most of the final 20 minutes. The Spartans got within 69-53 with 13:39 to play, but no closer.
USU used runs of 7-0 and 8-0 to put the game away. Knight put the Aggies into triple digits for the third time this season with 63 seconds to play to the delight of the crowd.
“What an electric atmosphere tonight,” Smith said. “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.”
Utah State began the day at No. 41 in the NET, the new ranking system being used by the NCAA this season, while San Jose State was at No. 332. … With the 16th win, first-year head coach Craig Smith is now tied with Dutch Belnap and Tim Duryea for the third most by a first-year coach. Ladell Andersen holds the record with 22 during the 1961-62 season. … The Aggies have outrebounded every opponent this season, with the exception of Houston and Fresno State, and Wednesday was no different as USU won the battle of the glass, 38-35. … USU put up a season-high 37 3-point attempts, making 11. …The 28 assists by the Aggies were a season high. … USU finished with eight turnovers, the second fewest this season. … Sophomore guard Crew Ainge, who started the first 18 games, missed Wednesday’s contest due to an illness, Smith said. … Merrill scored in double figures for the ninth straight game and 20th time this season. He now has 1,244 career points and moved into 23rd on the school record list, passing Max Perry (1,236) and Jim Boatwright (1,238). Merrill also moved from 17th to 14th in career assists as he now has 295, passing Bernard Rock (288), Mark Brown (290) and Jeff Tebbs (294). … Taylor has now played in 115 career games at USU, which ties him with Greg Grant for 14th. … Queta has blocked at least one shot in every game this year as he had three Wednesday and now has 53 on the year. … Porter took his third charge of the season and sixth of his career, while tying his career high with two steals. … Walk-on Alek Johnson scored his first points at USU, hitting a 3-pointer in the waning minutes. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Spartans, 62-22, the sixth most-played opponent for USU, and have won 23 of the last 24 meetings.
It really is harder than it looks, but the nod goes to Merrill because of the degree of difficulty of several 3-point shots, including a 45-footer just before halftime. Merrill finished with a game-high 29 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field and 8 of 9 from the foul line, dished out eight assists, grabbed two rebounds and had two steals in 30 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
The first dunk of the game came from Brito, who took a pass from Merrill and threw it down with two hands. On the very next possession, Queta slammed home a nice pass from Bean.
In the second half, Queta hammered down one off a pass from Taylor.
The leaders for the season are Queta with 33, Dwayne Brown Jr. with five, Taylor with four and Brito with three.
The Aggies remain at home for the next game, hosting UNLV (11-9, 5-3) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.. The Rebels lost at home to No. 8 Nevada on Tuesday, 87-70.