Win Over New Mexico Showed Why Utah State’s Sam Merrill Is Elite

Mar 5, 2020, 11:18 PM | Updated: 11:32 pm

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Down by 11 points with 9:36 remaining, Utah State’s season was on life support against New Mexico in the Quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament. That all changed when Sam Merrill checked back into the game with four fouls.

Instantly when Merrill came back into the game, the Aggies went on a 5-0 run and it was a tone-setter that everything was going to be okay for an Aggie team that saw their postseason aspirations slip away.

The senior guard who became No. 2 in scoring all-time at Utah State helped navigate the final 9:36 of action without picking up a fifth foul. Merrill’s presence lifted the Aggies to a 75-70 win over New Mexico to advance to the MWC Semifinals on Friday.

“We just battled so much tonight and I don’t want to be that guy that, oh our team overcame this and that, but truly tonight, we really did,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said to KSL Sports. “Queta gets two fouls in the first five minutes of the game … and then Merrill gets four fouls in the first five minutes to start the second half and Porter wasn’t able to play because he got hurt in the New Mexico game at the end of the regular season. Then we kind of lost our minds for a little bit. New Mexico smelled blood with their press. Called a timeout and just, slow down. Take a deep breath. It feels like the world is caving in right now, but we need to just chip away.

“Then being able to come back with [Sam] Merrill. He doesn’t get in foul trouble a lot but certainly, we trust him and we needed to put him in at that point. Then he took over. It was the Sam Merrill show on the offensive end and he made some plays.”

Merrill ended up with a game-high 29 points in 34 minutes of play and shot a blistering 10-15 from the field against a New Mexico team that has caused headaches for the Aggies throughout Merrill’s career. But great players rise up on the biggest stages.

“Sam is just such an elite player. Not only is he elite he also brings great poise and confidence to the rest of our team,” Smith said.

Emotions ran high for Sam Merrill against New Mexico

With Bracketology projections having Utah State squarely on the bubble so much was on the line against the Lobos. The high stakes made the scene of the more emotional ones for Merrill who didn’t want the quarterfinals to be his last game.

“You never know what’s going to happen. When I went out with my fourth foul I was just hoping that they didn’t go on too big of a run. And we found a way to stay close-ish, and then found a way to win that game at the end. So it’s definitely one of the most emotional games I’ve played in, for sure,” said Merrill.

New Mexico head coach believes Merrill should be in the NBA

Merrill’s elite play put a likely end to New Mexico’s 2019-20 season. Lobo head coach Paul Weir was candid about the impact Merrill in taking down his team.

“He’s amazing. He should be in the NBA Draft. He kicked our ass, he kicked my ass, he’s a great basketball player [and] I wish him all the best. He was exceptional tonight,” said Weir. “I didn’t do a good enough job. He beat me at the end of the day. He’s a great player. I could not find a way to stop him when it mattered. He can beat you from all three levels as he showed it. He was awesome tonight.”

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