BOZEMAN, Mont. – Sam Merrill made sure Craig Smith’s Utah State coaching debut was a successful one. The junior guard poured in a career-high 37 points in the Aggies’ 101-71 season-opening victory over Montana State at Worthington Arena on Tuesday night.
Senior guard/forward Dwayne Brown Jr. added 15 points and four rebounds for Utah State, which has now won 11 of the 1ast 14 games played against the Bobcats. All 12 Aggies that played scored at least two points as Smith became the 13th different coach in school history to win his first-ever game as head coach.
“This was a great team win,” Smith said. “I loved our fight and our togetherness. We really competed on both ends. How many times do you see teams score 101 points with only two guys in double digits? It certainly helps when you have one guy with 37, which Sam (Merrill) can certainly do, and showed tonight. Our guys really look for him.
“At the end of the day you always want to win and have to find the way to win, but we can hang our hat on defending the way we did. Obviously, we have to stop fouling. When you outrebound a team by 26 and have 16 offensive boards while shooting almost 50 percent, those are attitude and effort type of plays. I’m really proud of what we did.”
Merrill scored his 37 points in 33 minutes of action. He shot 12-of-18 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. The native of Bountiful, Utah, also had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
The 101 points were the most the Aggies have scored in a game since putting up 105 against Oakland on March 25, 2012.
“Obviously, it was an exciting start for us,” Merrill said. “From day one with Coach Smith, we talked about being better on the road, and we played really well. Everyone came in and contributed in whatever way they had to. It wasn’t perfect, we had some turnovers and fouled like crazy, but it was a pretty good start on both sides of the ball.”
Junior guard Diogo Brito and redshirt freshman Justin Bean each pulled down a career-high eight rebounds as the Aggies more than doubled the Bobcats’ output on the glass (51-25). Utah State shot 49.3 percent (34-for-69) from the field on the night, including 41.7 percent (10-for-24) from beyond the arc, and 88.5 percent (23-for-26) from the charity stripe.
Montana State had two players finish in double figures as Tyler Hall led the way with 15 points and Harald Frey chipped in 13. The Bobcats were held to just 37.7 percent shooting (20-for-53) on the night, including 37.0 percent (10-for-27) from 3-point range, and 63.6 percent (21-for-33) from the free throw line.
The Bobcats knocked down a couple of 3-pointers early on to grab a 6-2 lead, but the Aggies used an 8-0 run to move in front for good at 10-6 with 15:10 left in the first half. Freshman guard Tauriawn Knight had four of USU’s points during the spurt.
Merrill scored 21 of his points in the first half to help the Aggies go into the break with a 50-34 cushion.
Utah State will open the home portion of its schedule on Friday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m., against Hartford.