A long week full of final exams didn’t slow Utah State down at all.
The Aggies dismantled visiting Alabama State 86-48 in their first home game in 17 days. Utah State (9-2) jumped out to a 13-1 lead in the first four minutes of the game as they cruised to a relatively easy win over the Hornets (2-6).
“It was definitely a team effort,” USU’s Dwayne Brown Jr. said. “We came out very aggressive. That’s how we want to play at all times. We have to keep putting our feet on people’s necks so we can let them know we’re not here to just play around.”
Five different Aggies scored in double figures. It started off with freshman center Neemias Queta. The big man made three field goals from close range in the first 2:20 of the game. Queta finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals against an Alabama State squad that had no match for his length.
The Aggies’ early lead was widened over the next 10 minutes. With 8:13 left in the first half, Utah State took a 32-9 lead on a drive by Sam Merrill. The crafty guard was spectacularly efficient, especially in the first half. During the first 20 minutes of the game Merrill scored 11 points and had four assists in 18 minutes of playing time. His four assists resulted in 11 points for his teammates, giving him a direct hand in 22 of USU’s 44 first-half points.
Merrill scored a game-high 16 points while dishing out five assists and snagging five rebounds on the night.
Crew Ainge had a career night for the Aggies. The sophomore point guard netted a career-high 11 points. He also recorded a career-high-tying six rebounds and notched his first career block. Ainge found a lot of his success as he got into the lane on three-on-two fast break opportunities.
“It was a good game,” Ainge said. “That team’s pretty tough. We knew they were going to be scrappy and that they were better than their record showed.”
Dwayne Brown Jr. and Diogo Brito rounded out USU’s double-digit scorers with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Brown overpowered his defenders with strong moves to the basket on his way to a clean 6 of 9 showing from the floor. During a two-minute-long stretch in the second half Brown made back-to-back layups in traffic before sinking a 3-pointer. Brown’s longball put the Aggies up 67-35 with 12:26 left in the game. Utah State’s largest lead of the game was 40 points, which came in the final two minutes.
The Aggies were aggressive defensively. They limited Alabama State’s two leading scorers, Reginald Gee and Jacoby Ross, to a combined 15 points on 3 of 25 shooting. Overall, the Hornets only managed to shoot 20.7% from the field.
“There were numerous times where we had seven or more consecutive stops,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “I just loved how we defended. We fouled too much, that was the one negative. But we held those guys to 4 of 19 from the three with only 12 field goals for the whole game.”
The Aggies will once again take to the road next week. They will visit the 24th-ranked Houston Cougars on Thursday, Dec. 20. Houston is 9-0 on the season and boasts a NET rating of 12, with wins over Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma State.