Guard Sam Merrill carries heavy load for Utah State
Utah State sophomore guard Sam Merrill averages 35.3 minutes, but has the production to match the time on the court. The Aggies host UNLV at 6 p.m. Saturday.
March 2, 2018 - 4:45 pm
The momentum had swung back and forth in the Jan. 6 game at the Thomas & Mack Center, and with his team trailing by a basket, Utah State sophomore guard Sam Merrill stepped up to take the night’s biggest shot.
He calmly delivered the 3-pointer with 1:42 left that put the Aggies ahead by a point over UNLV and ahead for good in an 85-78 victory over the Rebels.
“Our coach (Tim Duryea) ran a great set, and I was able to get an open look,” Merrill said. “When there’s a moment like that, you’ve got to step up and rely on all the work that you’ve put in. I stepped up and shot it, and obviously it went in, and Koby (McEwen) was able to hit a big shot later. Going forward, that’s helped me with my confidence in the first half and second half of games to be able to hit whatever I need to hit for the team.”
The teams meet again Saturday, and both are trending in the wrong direction with matching four-game losing streaks. UNLV (19-11, 8-9 Mountain West) visits the Aggies (14-16, 7-10) at 6 p.m. at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah.
The winner gets the seventh seed in next week’s Mountain West tournament at the T&M, and the loser will get the eighth seed. The Aggies are 1½-point favorites in the game, which will be streamed online by ESPN3.
Utah State is relying on Merrill to carry a heavy load. He averages 35.3 minutes, but his production has not fallen off. He also leads the Aggies with a 16.1-point average, including 17.4 in conference play.
Merrill doesn’t just shoot in volume, he’s efficient, too. He has made 50.5 percent of his shots, including 46.4 percent from 3-point range. The latter is second to New Mexico’s Anthony Mathis’ 48.1 percent.
In Wednesday’s surprising 64-62 loss at San Jose State, Merrill made 9 of 16 shots, including 7 of 12 3-pointers, and scored 26 points. His teammates, who went on a 3-point shooting binge, made 14 of 50 field goals, including 3 of 31 on 3-point attempts.
“Among all the injuries and illness and stuff that we have dealt with, Sam has been a rock,” Duryea said. “He’s been a guy that takes the floor every night. He’s been a guy you can count on for heavy minutes. He’s going to be smart. He’s going to keep himself out of foul trouble. He’s going to keep himself available. A first team all-conference player in every form or fashion you can think about.”
No one in the conference plays more minutes than Merrill.
“I obviously put in a lot of work in the offseason and throughout the season to be able to be in good enough shape physically to be able to stay at a high level,” Merrill said. “But, mentally, it’s a big aspect, too, trying to understand the importance of every minute of every game. Fortunately, my coaches have put me in a good position. When I’ve needed to make a shot or make a play, I’ve been able to.”
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Who: UNLV at Utah State
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan, Utah
TV/Radio: ESPN3 (online stream); KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Utah State -1½; total 155