SALT LAKE CITY — Utah State had a fantastic time at Vivint Arena as the Aggies defeated Weber State 76-67.
"It was a good W for us," said Utah State head coach Craig Smith after the game. "They're a dangerous team. I thought our guys got off to a really great start. We played with a lot of force, a lot of aggression. We were really in attack mode in a major way on both offense and defense. We set the tone defensively with seven straight stops and built our lead right away."
Utah State started the game on a 7-0 run and shut down the Weber State offense from wire to wire. The Aggies held the Wildcats to just 35.7 percent shooting from the floor and 18.2 percent from behind the arc in the first half. Crew Ainge led Utah State with three steals as he led the team with three of its eight on the day. Overall, the Aggies held the Wildcats to 40.0 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three.
Remember, Weber State is the team that scored 113 against BYU just last week.
"Weber is a good basketball team, and we knew that we had to defend really well," said junior guard Sam Merrill. "Down in Provo we just didn't play our style of basketball. We didn't move the ball very well. We didn't defend like we normally do. So, that was our mindset. Get back to Utah State basketball. We shared the ball a lot better, we defended a lot better, we rebounded a lot better, and that's why we won."
Merrill and Neemas Queta had little trouble finding the basket. Merrill made 6 of 11 from the field and 3 of 6 from behind the arc and led the team with 19 points. Queta made 15 points and five boards. But Queta had to battle for boards against Weber State senior Brekkott Chapman, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds on the day. Freshman Tauriawan Knight also proved a spark from the bench with 10 points and three rebounds. Junior Diogo Brito also was big on the glass with 11 rebounds to go with nine points.
"We were just ready to go from the jump," said Knight after the game. "We just wanted to get out there and prove ourselves."
However, Weber State made things interesting down the stretch. Zach Braxton, who would finish with 14 points, made a 3-point play. The next possession, Caleb Nero hit a big three to put the Wildcats within six with about 5:30 left in the game. Nero would finish the game with 15 points. Cody John also had a good day for the Wildcats with 16 points on the day.
Then Queta fouled out with 4:03 left in the game for Utah State. It seemed like the door was open for Weber State to come back. "Well, I was losing my mind. No, not really," said Smith of this moment in the game. "To our credit, we made an adjustment. We actually went smaller."
Brock Miller responded with a big-time three to put the Aggies up by nine with 3:47 left. While there was some back-and-forth in the final minutes, Weber State simply couldn't overcome the deficit.
"Brock Miller was solid tonight. He had his first run. He played about three minutes, we took him out and he sat on that bench for about 11 minutes of game time," said Smith. "To Brock's credit, sometimes it's easy to check out and be like I'm probably not going back in. He gets in there. He's not in there for a minute, we run a play and Sam finds him in that right corner when it was six and he drills the three. It was a monster play."
The Aggies improve to 8-2 on the season. The Aggies have a full week to prepare for Alabama State next Saturday.
"You're really starting to see some guys climb and take some major strides," said Smith. "We'll have a week off before our next game, and it will be good to recover and just get some good practice time. I feel like it's been playing nonstop."