LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Junior center Neemias Queta scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to help second-seeded Utah State knock off seventh-seeded UNLV 74-53 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Queta and redshirt junior guard Marco Anthony combined for 33 points and 26 rebounds to help the Aggies (19-7) snap a 24-all tie at the break and cruise into the semifinals of the tournament.
“We started off pretty slow in the first half, but as it went on we started to pick it up,” said Anthony, who had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “The meeting at halftime was about taking it up another notch, and we did that. It led us to the win against a very talented team.”
Queta and Anthony became the first teammates to each pull down at least 13 boards in a Mountain West Tournament game.
Rollie Worster filled the stat sheet for Utah State as the freshman guard had 14 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals. His layup with 42 seconds left in the first half tied the game at 24.
The Runnin’ Rebels ended their season with a 12-15 overall record. Bryce Hamilton had 16 points and five rebounds in the loss, while Edoardo Del Cadia added 10 points off the bench. UNLV led 24-18 late in the first half before Queta knocked down a pair of free throws to spark a 6-0 run for USU.
“It was a bit of a slow start, kind of a root canal for both teams on the offensive end,” said third-year Utah State head coach Craig Smith. “Both teams defended really well. Our guys did a great job of self-correcting and really played connected in the second half. We cleaned up the offensive end. In the first half we had eight turnovers and in the second half we only had two.”
Utah State junior guard Brock Miller opened the scoring in the second half with a jumper just outside of the paint to give the Aggies a brief 26-24 lead. Caleb Grill answered at the other end for the Rebels with a 3-pointer to give the designated visitors their final lead of the night with 19:17 to go.
The Aggies, who extended their MW Tournament win streak to seven games, answered right back with a 3-ball of their own courtesy of Anthony to regain the lead for good at 29-27.
“Marco had a heck of a game in every facet, and that’s what he does,” Smith said. “He had 15 points and 13 rebounds – six of those offensive – and five assists. He’s such a dynamic player, was named to the (league’s) all-defensive team and he takes a lot of pride in that. He did a great job on the defensive end again tonight, as did our whole team. It was a really balanced attack on both sides of the ball. We’re happy to win. It’s survive and advance at this time of year, and we’re looking forward to playing another game tomorrow.”
After being held to just 24 points in the first half, the Aggies needed just 7:40 to surpass that total in the second half.
Utah State had 18 assists on 28 made field goals, and outrebounded UNLV 45-32. Justin Bean joined Anthony, Queta and Worster in double-figure scoring as the junior forward had 10 points, to go along with five rebounds, one assist and one steal. Bean was a perfect 3-for-3 for the Aggies on out-of-bounds sets.
Queta also had three blocks in the game to give him 78 this season and 200 in his career, which ranks as the fifth-most in Mountain West history.
“We played with a lot more purpose and we settled in,” Smith said of his team’s second-half performance. “UNLV played (Wednesday) night, this is their home arena and they have a comfort level here, while we have a lot of guys who have never played in this tournament. We showed some tentativeness and didn’t execute things the way we normally do, then we really settled in, in that second half.”
The Aggies shot 45.2 percent from the field on the night (28-of-62), including 33.3 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-18), and 80.0 percent at the charity stripe (12-of-15). Queta nearly went to the free throw line more than UNLV did as a team. He knocked down 10 of his 12 attempts at the stripe, while the Rebels were 9-of-13.
UNLV shot just 32.2 percent from the field (19-of-59), including 27.3 percent from 3-point range (6-of-22).
Utah State returns to action on Friday, when the Aggies play in the semifinals of the tournament at 10 p.m. (MT). The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. This marks the fourth time in as many years that USU has reached the semis after not advancing past the quarterfinals in each of its first four seasons in the MW.
USU is 16-6 all-time in semifinal games, which includes a 2-1 record in the MW.