Witnessing Sam Merrill make 3-point shots is nothing new for Aggie basketball fans.
The former Utah State star has quickly gotten the attention of Milwaukee Bucks fans, even though they can’t attend games. Merrill began his professional career in the NBA by making his first four attempts from 3-point range. His action has mostly come at the end of games, even though he did see some time in the first half of a game early on.
Last week Merrill was once again getting national attention — he ended his collegiate career with a game-winning shot against nationally ranked San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game. Milwaukee broke the NBA record for 3-pointers in a game. The Bucks made a record 29 3-pointers in their 144-97 romp past the reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat on Dec. 29.
The record-breaker was made by Merrill, who got the 28th 3-pointer with 6:07 remaining, giving the Bucks a 131-86 lead.
“I had no idea,” said Merrill about the record in a video interview posted on the Bucks’ website. “I didn’t find out until after the game when I checked my phone.”
How did he feel about being the guy who hit the record-breaking three?
“It’s exciting,” Merrill said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time. ... It’s pretty crazy how everybody shot it. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to see those guys play super well and being able to make that shot was really exciting.”
Five games into his NBA career, Merrill was getting regular minutes in the fourth quarter. When No. 15 — he has added a “1” to his USU jersey number — does get in, the ball tends to find its way to him for 3-point shots.
“I’m just trying to play well,” Merrill said. “I understand if I want to try and earn some minutes and hopefully over time have the career I want to have, I’ve just got to be as good as I can be in the minutes I have, whether that’s knocking down shots, defending or play making. I’m just trying to play as well as I can.”
The former Aggie has been slowed some as of late. The 6-foot-5 guard has been out the last three games with a left ankle injury.
In the five games he has played, Merrill has averaged 7.6 minutes of action. He is averaging 2.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.2 steals a game. Merrill is shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 80 percent from 3-point range.
“I have been able to see a couple of games, and it’s exciting,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “Nothing surprises me with Sam. I said it when he played here, but Sam is going to be successful in everything he does because of who he is and what he stands for, his character, his drive, his passion and the way he treats people. ... And he is a very, very talented basketball player.”
The Bucks played on Christmas, beating Golden State 138-99. Merrill had six points, three rebounds, four assists and a steal.
“The guys who were in town for Christmas, mostly the international guys, came over to our house,” Smith said. “We had a lot of fun. Guys like Sean Bairstow was talking about how Sam played. The guys were excited about it. Sam is going to be a heck of a professional basketball player. He’s with an organization that really believes in him. They value who and what he is. It’s exciting to see the success he has had in a short amount of time. It’s just the start.”