Sam Merrill scored 29 points and Utah State beat No. 12 Nevada 81-76 on Saturday night to take over the Mountain West Conference lead.
Diogo Brito added 15 points and eight rebounds, and Neemias Queta had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Aggies (24-6, 14-3). They won their sixth straight game and snapped a five-game losing streak in the series.
Caleb Martin had 23 points and nine rebounds for the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3) in their second loss in four games. Tre'Shawn Thurman added 21 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 2:47 left, and Cody Martin had 16 points and seven rebounds.
Queta threw down a hammer dunk and Merrill followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel an 8-0 run that gave the Aggies a 19-12 lead. Merrill scored 15 of his 17 first-half points in the first 12 minutes. His final basket in that stretch put Utah State up 23-14.
Nevada closed the gap with five straight baskets. The final one — Caleb Martin's 3-pointer — cut Utah State's lead to 28-27. The Wolf Pack weren't able to overtake the Aggies before halftime. Queta and Brito scored back-to-back baskets to keep Utah State in front and a scoop shot from Dwayne Brown, Jr. pushed the lead to 37-31 heading into the final minute of the half.
The Aggies led 46-36 early in the second half behind back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brock Miller. Utah State led by as many as 13 points, going up 56-43 on back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brito.
The Wolfpack used a 10-1 run to cut Utah State's lead to 65-63. Brito hit a jumper with 4:05 left to keep Nevada from erasing the lead entirely. Nevada could not draw any closer after having several players foul out over the final three minutes. The Aggies hit 7 of 8 free throws and Brito drove for a layup in the final minute.
A loss to Utah State in a tough road environment will likely drop Nevada only a couple of spots in the AP poll.
THE BIG PICTURE
Utah State came into the game on the NCAA Tournament bubble and may have a bit more breathing room.
Nevada: At Air Force on Tuesday night.
Utah State: At Colorado State on Tuesday.