Sam Merrill Recounts ‘Emotional Meeting’ Where USU Discussed NCAA Tourney Cancellation
Mar 14, 2020, 2:59 PM | Updated: 7:58 pm
LOGAN, Utah – Utah State star guard Sam Merrill didn’t get to experience his second NCAA Tournament appearance after the big dance was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns also known as COVID-19.
Like many other seniors around the world of college basketball, Merrill’s career came to and abrupt end.
But, Merrill ended his career at Utah State the best way that he possibly could when he hit the game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to help the Aggies defeat No. 5 San Diego State to win their second straight Mountain West Tournament Championship.
When Merrill found out about the NCAA Tournament being canceled, Merrill was on his way to practice.
“I was on my way to practice,” Merrill said. “We were at the point where we were expecting it (tournament cancellation) at some point but just didn’t know when. Coach (Craig Smith) just texted us and said he was going to modify practice under the assumption that this probably was going to happen. I was on my way up to practice when a buddy sent me a text that it was cancelled.”
There was still work to be done.
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) March 13, 2020
When the team showed up for practice, the tournament was already canceled. The Aggies held a meeting that was led by head coach Craig Smith.
“It was a very emotional meeting. We met on the Spectrum floor,” stated Merrill. “Coach Smith talked to us for a few minutes. He mentioned how proud he was of us and how sad he was for all of us.”
It was difficult for Merrill and his teammates to accept that they would not be participating in the NCAA Tournament. Even though they expected it, it was still difficult to accept.
“It was a tough moment. To hear that we were going to play without fans, to me it seemed like it would be better to just cancel it,” said Merrill.
I LOVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE YOUNG MEN! I LOVE THIS TEAM!!!! pic.twitter.com/QR0zuWKm1t
— Craig Smith (@CoachSmith_USU) March 12, 2020
It was an up and down season for the Aggies with a great non-conference record before struggling to start conference play. The team turned things around at the most important time. They overcame that when they had a big target on their back in the preseason when they were unanimously picked to win the conference title.
“We started with very high expectations and we had high expectations as a team,” Merrill mentioned. “We got off to a good start but it felt different. Part of that was not having Nemi (Neemias Queta) and his injuries. A couple of us got hurt in the preseason so that was tough. It seemed like we needed to be knocked down to come back up. From that moment, we fixed ourselves, looked in the mirror and did what needed to be done and ended it in the most perfect way possible.”
Additional Year Of Eligibility?
The NCAA announced on Friday that seniors who are participating in spring sports will receive an additional year of eligibility due to the cancellation of all spring sports until further notice.
The committee is also expected to make a decision on the seniors in winter sports, primarily in basketball and gymnastics whether or not to grant an additional season.
If Merrill was presented with an opportunity to play one more season at Utah State, he would not return.
“I am going to be 24-years old in a couple of months and I will be graduating,” Merrill said. “I feel like I have given everything that I have had to Utah State. I feel like it is time to move on.”
To all the seniors: Thank you ❤️ pic.twitter.com/qWCwF5SX3b
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 14, 2020
The second all-time career scoring leader at Utah State is sad about how the season ended but is also happy that the last time he would be on the floor wearing a Utah State uniform that he made one of the biggest shots in school history.
“Obviously, I wish there was more to it and more opportunities but in hindsight knowing what we know now, it’s a perfect way to go out,” Merrill said. “To be one of the best teams in the country and win a conference championship and be able to celebrate together.”
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