LAS VEGAS -- A day after the media released its all-conference teams and individual honors, the Mountain West Conference released its postseason awards Tuesday morning.
Three Utah State players were honored for their efforts during the 2019-20 men’s basketball season. The Aggies included guard Sam Merrill, center Neemias Queta and forward Justin Bean. Merrill, the reigning MW Player of the Year, was named to the first team for the second straight year, while Queta was named to the second team. Bean made the third team. Queta, the reigning Defensive and Freshman of the Year, and Bean were named to the all-Mountain West Defensive Team.
“All three of those guys are high achievers,” USU head coach Craig Smith said Tuesday before the team left for Las Vegas and the Mountain West Tournament.
The league’s 11 head coaches voted on the all-conference teams, as well as the coach, player, defensive player, newcomer, sixth man and freshman honors.
San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher earned MW Coach of the Year honors, while Aztec Malachi Flynn was selected as Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens was recognized as Freshman of the Year, while Nevada’s Jalen Harris and Nisré Zouzoua were chosen as Newcomer and Sixth Man of the Year, respectively.
Merrill is leading the Aggies this year in scoring and assists, with 18.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. During league play, Merrill scored in double figures in every game, including a season-high 32-point performance at Colorado State on Feb. 11. Merrill eclipsed 2,000 career points in the same game against the Rams, becoming just the fourth Aggie in school history and just the sixth player in Mountain West history to surpass 2,000 career points. Merrill currently has 2,114 career points, 14 points shy of second place in USU history and 55 points shy of fourth place in MW history.
Merrill has also made his mark on the USU record books in 14 other career statistics as he is the best free throw shooter in school history, connecting on 89.3 percent and ranks second in assists (469), minutes played (4,248), 10-point games (105), 3-point field goals (308) and 3-point field goals attempted (733), fourth in games started (116), fifth in field goals attempted (1,469), sixth in games played (128) and field goals made (686), and seventh in steals (125), 3-point field goal percentage (.420) and minutes per game (33.2). Merrill is also 15th in Utah State history with 16.5 points per game over the course of his career.
Merrill is the first Aggie since Tai Wesley in 2010 and 2011 to earn back-to-back first-team all-league honors.
“Sam is going to go down as one the greatest players in Utah State history and in the Mountain West Conference,” Smith said. “He has scored and given out assists, but is also a fantastic defensive player. The superlatives never stop with him. … He grew up dreaming of being an Aggie and is a dang good one.”
Queta earned second-team all-MW honors for the second consecutive year. He led the conference during league play with 1.7 blocks per game and saw his production improve throughout the season as he came back from an injury to his knee during the summer. Queta averaged 12.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game during the month of January, but saw a bump in February, averaging 15.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Over the last two games, Queta has recorded a double-double in each game with 23 points and 10 rebounds against San José State on Feb. 25, followed by 18 points and 14 rebounds at New Mexico on Feb. 29.
“Neemie has been through a lot this year with the injury,” Smith said. “It’s amazing to see how much better he is right now than a month ago. He is certainly high impact on both ends of the floor.”
Bean picked up his first all-MW honor. Bean is one of only three players in the MW averaging a double-double, turning in 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. In fact, Bean leads the MW with 15 double-doubles this season, the most by an Aggie since Eric Franson recorded 15 double-doubles during the 1994-95 season. Bean ranks 12th in the nation with 319 total rebounds, the most by an Aggie since Cornell Green pulled down 322 rebounds during the 1961-62 season.
“Justin puts a lot of time in,” Smith said. “He wants to be coached, he wants to be held accountable. He has all the intangibles and has talent. The exciting part is he has a lot of room to grow.”
Queta appeared on the all-defensive team for the second consecutive year as the Aggies made up two of the five honored on the list with Bean, joining San Diego State’s KJ Feagin and Flynn and Nevada’s Lindsey Drew.
The defending tournament champion Aggies will go for a repeat, starting Thursday. USU will take on the winner of the New Mexico/San Jose State game, which will be played Wednesday. The Aggies tip off in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m.
2019-20 All-Mountain West
Men’s Basketball Team
Malachi Flynn, Jr., G, San Diego State; Jalen Harris, Jr., G, Nevada; Sam Merrill, Sr., G, Utah State; Matt Mitchell, Jr., F, San Diego State; Bryce Hamilton, So., F, UNLV.
Yanni Wetzell, Sr., F, San Diego State; Neemias Queta, So., C, Utah State; Nico Carvacho, Sr., C, Colorado State; Justinian Jessup, Sr., G, Boise State; Derrick Alston, Jr., F, Boise State; Jazz Johnson, Sr., G, Nevada.
Justin Bean, So., F, Utah State; Lavell Scottie, Sr., F, Air Force; Seneca Knight, So., G, San José State; Isaiah Stevens, Fr., G, Colorado State; Amauri Hardy, Jr., G, UNLV.
Malachi Flynn, Jr., G, San Diego State; KJ Feagin, Sr., G, San Diego State; Neemias Queta, So., C, Utah State; Lindsey Drew, Sr., G, Nevada; Justin Bean, So., F, Utah State.
KJ Feagin, Sr., G, San Diego State; Hunter Maldonado, So., G, Wyoming; Lindsey Drew, Sr., G, Nevada; Nate Grimes, Sr., F, Fresno State; Orlando Robinson, Fr., F, Fresno State.
Player of the Year: Malachi Flynn, Jr., G, San Diego State
Defensive Player of the Year: Malachi Flynn, Jr., G, San Diego State
Freshman of the Year: Isaiah Stevens, Fr., G, Colorado State
Newcomer of the Year: Jalen Harris, Nevada
Sixth Man of the Year: Nisré Zouzoua, Nevada
Coach of the Year: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State