Merrill leads Utah St. past Colorado St. 100-96 in OT

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Sam Merrill had a career-high 38 points as Utah State stretched its winning streak to seven games, narrowly beating Colorado State 100-96 in overtime on Tuesday night. The win was USU’s 14th in 15 games and the second overtime victory for Utah State (25-6, 15-3 Mountain West Conference).

“That’s the difference right now is we are finding ways,” said USU head coach Craig Smith following the win. “It was very similar to the Boise State game.”

The win also assured the Aggies at least a share of the Mountain West regular season title.

To be Mountain West Conference champions is awesome,” Smith exclaimed. “Coaches coach and you try to put guys in the best position. You try to build a culture, but this is a players’ game. I didn’t even realize Sam (Merrill) had 38 points.”

“It feels incredible,” Merrill said after the game. “We had to really grind that one out. Defensively, we never really had the legs and we had some good stretches for the most part. We weren’t great and they were a really good offensive team. They’re No. 1 in the league in offensive efficiency.

“They deserve a lot of credit for making a lot of big shots. Similar to that Boise State game, we were down with less than a minute to go and we found a way. That’s who we are and this is a fitting way to win the league with how our season has gone.”

Besides scoring a career high and leading the team in points, Merrill led the Aggies in rebounds and assists for the second time this season. He also played every minute of basketball, including the overtime period. Merrill has sat down only a combined three minutes over the course of the last seven games.

Quinn Taylor had 18 points for Utah State. Neemias Queta added 12 points. Justin Bean had 10 points for the road team.

Utah State is undefeated (4-0) when scoring at least 100 points this season.

J.D. Paige scored a career-high 29 points and had six assists for the Rams (12-18, 7-10). Kris Martin added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Nico Carvacho had 19 points and nine rebounds.

The Aggies improve to 2-0 against the Rams for the season. Utah State defeated Colorado State 87-72 on Jan. 19. Colorado State finishes out the regular season against UNLV at home on Saturday.

Utah State now awaits the conclusion of the season on Saturday to see if they win the conference out-right, or if they share the title with Nevada. The Mountain West Conference tournament begins next week in Las Vegas.

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