SUNRISE, Fla. – Senior guard Sam Merrill earned MVP honors, scoring a team-high 21 points and pulling down a career-high nine rebounds, as Utah State posted a 65-62 victory over Florida in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic on Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore forward Justin Bean followed in double figures with 12 points and added nine rebounds and two steals, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor. Senior Diogo Brito finished with 11 points, going 4-of-4 at the free throw line with less than 30 seconds to play to seal the victory for the Aggies (12-2).
Utah State held Florida (7-4) without a field goal over the opening nine minutes, as the Gators started the game 0-for-14 from the floor. Despite the start, the teams entered the half all square at 27-27. Utah State won despite losing hard-luck center Neemias Queta to an injury in the first half.
The Gators opened the second half on a 9-3 run, taking a 36-32 lead into the first media timeout. Utah State countered with a 10-0 run, capped by a three by sophomore guard Brock Miller to take a 42-38 lead. A jumper by Brito with just over four minutes to play gave the Aggies the lead for good, as Brito’s free throws secured the win for Utah State.
Utah State finished the game shooting 45.3 percent (24-of-53) from the floor, 36.0 percent (9-of-25) from behind the 3-point line and 72.7 percent (8-of-11). The Aggies held the Gators to 32.3 percent (20-of-62) from the floor, including 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from behind the 3-point line. Florida shot 81.8 percent (18-of-22) at the free throw line, where graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear shot 15-of-17 at the charity stripe en route to scoring a game-high 22 points to lead the Gators. Blackshear also logged a double-double, pulling down a game-high 14 rebounds.
Utah State returns to the court on Saturday, Dec. 28, hosting Eastern Oregon at 2 p.m., inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.