March magic can run out at any time, Utah State is in desperate need of it as they try to go back to the NCAA Tournament. And Wyoming hopes its magic, that has carried them through the first two rounds of the tournament, would last another night.
Coined the “Cinderella” of the 2020 Mountain West Tournament by reaching the semifinals, Wyoming was playing with house money, but in the end, magic, money, and time often run out.
The Cowboy’s magical run came to an end Friday night at the hands of Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, and Utah State, 89-82.
“At the end of the day our guys finished very, very strong,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said,” finished on a 13-0 run, we had seven straight stops down the stretch, and we found a way to win.”
Utah State held the lead for 39:16, but the scrappy Cowboys responded every time the Aggies made a run or hit a big shot. The undersized Cowboys utilized the three-point shot to keep themselves in the game, they ended the night with 15 made threes.
Wyoming tied the game in the second half at 66-66, but Utah State stringed together a 13-0 run to put its distance between the Cowboys.
But the small Cowboys did not have an answer for Queta and Utah State’s presence in the paint. Queta finished with 21 points. The Aggies had a plus 12 advantage in points in the paint, 32-20.
When the game was close, Utah State put the ball in the hands of Merrill. He finished with 27 points and proved for the second night in a row why he is one of the best players in the conference.
“Yeah, he just let me go,” Merrill said on Smith letting him play his game. “Just echoing everything that coach said. Every time it felt like we were going to make a run they responded and hit a three or got to the basket. They just made a ton of plays and they tied it up with, what, four or five minutes to go. And I don’t know, I just felt confident and coach let me go one-on-one.
For the second game in a row, point guard Abel Porter’s back injury limited his ability, he started the game but quickly went back to the bench as his injury bothered him, he only played four minutes. Smith said they will see where he is at today to see if he can he able to go against San Diego State.
Without their starting point guard, Utah State only committed nine turnovers. The injury caused the Aggies to rely heavy minutes on the thin rotation, minus Porter, the Aggies went only seven deep, with everyone playing at least 14 minutes.
Now, for the second year in a row, Utah State will face San Diego State in the championship game today for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies fell to the Aztecs both times this season, but tomorrow is a new game. “ We know it’s going to be a heck of a battle,” Smith said, “and we’ll see where it goes from there.”