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Merrill, Porter lead No. 25 Utah State past Fresno State

Utah State Aggies guard Sam Merrill (5) goes to the hoop during a Mountain West Conference semifinal game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

LOGAN, Utah (AP) — Utah State toughened its defense and opened up its offense in overtime to get past Fresno State.

Sam Merrill had 24 points and eight rebounds and Abel Porter scored seven of his 13 points in overtime as No. 25 Utah State beat Fresno State 77-70 on Saturday night.

“I think it says a lot about our guys, I think we held them scoreless for three-and-a-half minutes in overtime and then we found enough ways to get enough baskets,” Utah State head coach Craig Smith said.

Justin Bean added 14 points and Neemias Queta chipped in six points in 10 minutes, in his first action of the season for Utah State (9-1, 2-0 Mountain West).

New Williams scored 26 points and hit the basket that forced overtime for Fresno State (2-6, 0-2).

The Aggies turned it on in overtime, outscoring Fresno State 16-9. Utah State allowed just two field goals in overtime.

“I thought we missed a couple of good, open looks. I thought the guys continued to execute and we just didn’t have a couple fall. I think we had a defensive breakdown on one end that really hurt us and they took advantage of it,” Fresno State head coach Justin Hutson said.

A wild final two minutes of regulation set up overtime.

After Nate Grimes hit a layup that cut the Aggies’ lead to one point, Diogo Brito hit a 3-pointer to give Utah State a four-point lead with 1:43 left in regulation.

On the next possession, Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs to keep Fresno State in the game. After a traveling call on Utah State gave Fresno State the ball with 19 seconds left, Bean stole the inbound pass. Brito was fouled and made a pair of free throws to put Utah State up by three points and set up a final possession for the Bulldogs.

Williams banked in a last-second 3-pointer from well-beyond the arc, with the shot rattling around the rim before dropping through the net and sending the game into overtime.

After Merrill made a layup to give Utah State a 33-32 lead with 16 minutes left in the second half, Fresno State went on a 9-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 41-33 advantage. Williams scored all nine points in the run. The Aggies’ scoring drought lasted nearly five minutes before Brito ended it with a three-point play. Orlando Robinson scored on a jumper, but Utah State countered with an 8-0 run to get back into the game with eight minutes remaining.

It was a seesaw matchup in the first half, with neither team shooting well. Utah State shot just 26.7% from the field in the first period, with Fresno State shooting 31.3%. The teams struggled with their long distance shooting as the Aggies went 1 of 10 and the Bulldogs 3 of 16.

Utah State led 27-24 at halftime.

QUETA RETURNS

Utah State star sophomore center Neemias Queta played his first minutes of the season against Fresno State. Queta, who averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds last year as a freshman for the Aggies, was recovering from a knee injury. Queta checked in at the 10-minute mark of the first half to a standing ovation from the Spectrum crowd. Queta scored his first two points of the season on free throws with nine minutes in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Fresno State: The Bulldogs hung with the Aggies thanks to a great performance by New Williams, but lost their fourth straight game — and second straight overtime game.

Utah State: The Aggies won their second straight game as Sam Merrill had an excellent game and Neemias Queta played his first minutes of the season.

UP NEXT

Fresno State: The Bulldogs continue their three-game road trip in Berkeley next Wednesday, taking on California.

Utah State: The Aggies host Saint Katherine on Tuesday.
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