It was another typical Aggie-Bronco game late Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Until the final 30 seconds the outcome was anyone’s guess. That changed quickly.
Utah State took advantage of a flagrant foul against Boise State with 32 seconds to play and scored the final eight points of the game to pick up a hard-fought 70-61 Mountain West win in front of 10,033 fans.
“Today’s game was a grinding game,” said USU center Neemias Queta, who had a game-best 21 points. “Nobody played really well on the offensive end, but defensively both teams were doing a really good job. … Boise is a really good team. I just felt like we played to our strengths and had a good game.”
Clinging to a 62-61 lead, the Aggies (19-7, 8-5 MW) had the ball and went inside to Neemias Queta. He was fouled hard by Riley Abercrombie, which eventually turned into a flagrant foul. Queta made both free throws.
On the ensuing possession, Sam Merrill was fouled with 29.5 seconds left. Merrill made both free throws.
The Broncos (16-9, 8-5) missed two shots, and USU’s Justin Bean grabbed his career-high 16th rebound. Bean got the ball to Abel Porter, who threw a long pass to Diogo Brito for a layup with 12 seconds to play, basically icing the game. After a BSU turnover, Brito sank two free throws for the final points, ending the Broncos’ winning streak at five.
“We were just really poised in the second half when things didn’t go our way,” Bean said. “At the end of the day, we had to be the toughest team, come together and make winning plays. That’s what we did tonight.”
It was a wild finish to an emotional night at the Spectrum. Wayne Estes, Ladell Andersen and four championship teams were honored before the game and during halftime.
“It was a nice celebration, but then the game came and it was ugly at times,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “But we found a way to win the game.”
This was just the second time in the last 14 meetings between these two teams that the point spread was more than seven points. The Aggies’ largest lead Saturday night was 12, while the Broncos enjoyed a 1-point lead several times in the early going.
USU played a huge chunk of the second half without its leading scorer. Merrill picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and sat for nearly 13 minutes. The Aggies never gave up the lead while Merrill was on the bench, but the Broncos did get within two.
“We’ve never had to do that in our year and a half here,” Smith said of playing so long with Merrill on the bench. “I thought Diogo (Brito) played well. It was a dog fight and we found a way.”
“During that time (without Merrill) coach Smith and another assistant told us we just need to be players, we need to pick up the slack. Obviously, you can’t replace a guy like Sam Merrill. We tried to make good decisions on offense and, for the most part, defended pretty well during that stretch. Defense is what got it done for us tonight.”
The Broncos shot 35.5 percent from the floor and 20.7 percent from 3-point range. It was the 15th time this season USU had held an opponent below 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from beyond the arc.
Justinian Jessup led BSU with 20 points. Alex Hobbs added 15. Derrik Alston Jr. was held to seven, 12 below his season average.
Joining Queta in double-figure scoring was Merrill (17) and Brito (11).
It took the Aggies just 12 seconds to get their first points of the game when Brock Miller found Queta for a dunk.
After four lead changes, USU scored seven unanswered points as Miller got it started with a pull-up jumper. Merrill swooped in for a circus bucket to give the hosts a 11-5 lead six minutes into the contest.
After a Bronco bucket, the Aggies reeled off seven more straight points. Queta made a free throw to give USU a 18-7 lead midway through the opening half.
Then it became a foul fest. Both teams ended up with 11 fouls in the first 20 minutes and neither head coach seemed happy with the officials. Merrill had three fouls and sat the final 2:30 of the first half.
The Aggies took a 35-24 lead into the break.
At the start of the second half, it got really crazy as fouls continued to mount. Merrill was whistled for his fourth just 40 seconds in and sat. He went to the bench, while Smith picked up a technical foul.
The Broncos would go on a 9-0 run to pull within 42-40 with 11:49 to play.
USU went more than four minutes between field goals. Brito ended that drought with a steal and layup as the Aggies never gave up the lead.
Merrill returned with 6:46 to play and made six free throws to finish the game.
There were 49 combined fouls called in the game.
“It was difficult, no doubt,” Smith said. “It was tough for us and tough for them (Broncos). You have to negotiate it.”
The Aggies started the day at No. 52 in the NET rankings, while the Broncos were at No. 91. …Boise State assistant coach Tim Duryea was the head coach at USU for three years and spent 17 years in Logan as he was an assistant with Stew Morrill before taking over as head coach. … USU is now 18-2 this season when outrebounding the opponent as it won the battle on the boards, 48-31. … The Aggies had a season-high eight blocked shots. USU improved to 17-2 this season when its bench outscores the opponent as it did Saturday, 16-8 … Merrill scored in double figures for the 17th straight time this year, 23rd time this season and 100th time in his career. He now has 1,996 career points. … Brito had one steal to pull into a tie with Tai Wesley (112) for 10th on the career list. He also had 11 points, and USU improved to 26-0 when Brito scores in double figures over the last two seasons. … Guard Abel Porter had a season-high seven rebounds. … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Broncos, 34-16.
There was plenty of fanfare before and at halftime of Saturday night’s game as Utah State is celebrating 50 years of the Spectrum being the home of the Aggies.
Before the game, Aggie All-American Wayne Estes was honored as Saturday was the 55th year to the date of when he went over 2,000 career points. After that game, Estes and some friends stopped at the scene of a car accident near campus. While crossing the street, Estes brushed against a downed high power line and was tragically electrocuted.
Ten minutes before the game, the shoes Estes was wearing were placed at the spot of his final shot and a short video of him playing was shown. The Aggie team stood along the court to honor him, as did the crowd.
The Aggies wore throwback jerseys in the game from 1965 with a No. 33 patch on them in honor of Estes.
Also before the game, legendary coach Ladell Andersen was also honored just before starters were introduced. He passed away in December at the age of 90. His initials “LA” were placed on the baseline of the west side of the court.
Four conference championship teams were recognized as many players and a coach were on hand. The teams included: 1979-80 (four players and coach Rod Tueller), 1994-95 (six players), 1999-2000 (four players) and 2009-10 (four players).
“It was nice to celebrate the Spectrum,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “To have the throwback uniforms, which our guys designed, I thought was fantastic. The atmosphere before the game was great. … It was just an amazing day in so many ways.”
Several candidates but the nod goes to Queta. The center finished with a game-best 21 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field and 11 of 14 from the free throw line. The foul shots were a career high. The sophomore also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a season-best five shots in 31 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
It didn’t take long for the Aggies to record their first of the night. Twelve seconds to be exact as Queta took a pass from Miller and went under the basket and slammed it down on the other side. Queta added another dunk midway through the first half off a pass from Brito.
Brito broke free on a fastbreak and Porter hit him with a long pass for a dunk five minutes into the second half. That would be it for the game.
Season count: Queta 17, Trevin Dorius 12, Kuba Karawowski 9, Alphonso Anderson 9, Bean 8, Brito 7, Sean Bairstow 2, Miller 2, Roche Grootfaam 2.
The Aggies finish off their stretch of three games in seven days by playing at Colorado State on Tuesday. The Rams (17-8, 8-4) did not play Saturday. Their last game was on Tuesday with a 80-70 win at Fresno State. USU beat CSU at the Spectrum back on Jan. 25, 77-61.