LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sam Merrill scored 24 points, Neemias Queta had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Utah State won its first Mountain West Conference championship with a 64-57 victory over San Diego State on Saturday.
Utah State (28-6) scored the first 13 points of the second half to pull away after leading 34-32 at halftime. The Aggies, who joined the conference in 2013-14, were the No. 2 seeds after sharing the regular-season title with No. 14 Nevada.
Merrill, who went 11 of 12 from the free throw line, was the tournament’s MVP. Abel Porter had 10 points for the Aggies, who have won 10 straight and 17 of their last 18 games.
Fourth-seeded San Diego State got no closer than five points on two occasions after Utah State’s run, cutting it to 60-55 in the final minute. But Merrill responded by hitting two free throws with 43 seconds left to seal it.
Devin Watson scored 18 points in a game the Aztecs (21-13) in all likelihood needed to win to make the NCAA Tournament.
Even though the Aggies led for 12 minutes, 15 seconds of the first half, there were 10 lead changes and seven ties in the session. Neither team could build more than Utah State’s five-point advantage.
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Utah State: This was the Aggies’ first conference championship game appearance since winning the Western Athletic Conference title in 2011 with a 77-69 victory over Boise State. Merrill became the seventh Aggie to reach 700 points in a season and moved into fifth on the team’s career scoring list with his 21st point Saturday.
San Diego State: The Aztecs won the MWC tournament in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2018. This also was their ninth finals appearance in 11 years, all at the Thomas & Mack Center. They have appeared in 11, a conference record.
Utah State: Awaits word for a seeding in the NCAA Tournament
San Diego State: Awaits word on a postseason tournament berth
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