In a game where Utah State struggled for consistent scoring, freshman phenom Neemias Queta delivered one of his best games of the season, leading the Aggies to a 71-55 victory over New Mexico on Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Queta finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
“We really competed overall. You could tell the energy was there,” freshman Justin Bean said. “It was electrifying. The fans really showed up tonight…Just another step closer to bringing the magic back and we’re excited.”
USU’s struggles began from the opening tip, as New Mexico jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the early minutes of the game. Still facing an 18-11 deficit 10 minutes into the game, the Aggie defense locked in, holding New Mexico to only 37 points over the remaining 30 minutes of game time. USU took the lead for good when sophomore Sam Merrill hit a three-pointer, part of his 13 points in the game, to send the Aggies into the half with a 35-32 lead.
“We were really scrappy and just fought to communicate on defense,” Bean said. “When we talk as a team and fight through that fatigue and pull together, there’s not a team that can score on us.”
The second half featured the same defensive intensity as the first, with USU holding New Mexico to only nine points through the first 12 minutes of the second half, allowing the Aggies to extend the lead into double digits and comfortably ride to a victory in the final minutes.
“In the second half, I think we just came out and we out-toughed them,” junior Diogo Brito said. “We just played hard. We got a lot of stops. We got a lot of steals. All that defensive effort just translated to easy baskets.”
For the game, Utah State recorded 13 steals, which tied a season high. The effort was led by Brito, who ended with four steals in the contest to go along with 13 points and six rebounds. Bean added three steals, plus eight points and five rebounds. As a team, USU forced 18 turnovers on the night, which led to 23 points for the Aggies.
“That is the epitome of what ‘GATA’ is for us,” Bean said. “Several guys had steals, all but a couple guys that played… Diving on loose balls on the floor. I don’t know how many times a guy was on the floor, but it was fun to see.”
Queta anchored both the offense and defense for the entire night, particularly buoying USU in the early going by scoring 11 of Utah State’s first 15 points of the game. After allowing New Mexico’s Carlton Bragg Jr. to score 18 points in the first meeting between the two teams, Queta held the Lobos’ third-leading scorer to only two points and zero field goals. Anthony Mathis led New Mexico with 20 points.
“He was huge,” Brito said. “To just have the guy where you can feed in the post, slow things down, open things up. He was one-on-one with their big guys and he just took care of business down there. He was huge.”
The victory came at an opportune time, as both Fresno State and Nevada suffered defeats on Wednesday night. The Aggies now hold a full game lead over Fresno State in the Mountain West standings, and trail Nevada for first place in the conference by only half a game.
“Second place in the conference. We hold our own destiny again,” said USU head coach Craig Smith. “But we have a really tough stretch of games coming up, starting at Boise State.”
Utah State returns to the road to take on Boise State in the only regular season meeting between the two teams for the year. Tipoff is currently scheduled for Saturday at 2 pm MST.