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Merrill Delivers a Master Class as Aggies Hold Off Rams 75-72

February 12, 2020

Reigning MWC Player of the Year Sam Merrill had tortured Colorado State throughout his career. 38 points in a late-season OT win in Moby last season. 28 earlier this season in a 77-61 win in Logan.

So it came as no surprise that Merrill scored 32 in leading the Aggies to a pulsating victory in a hard-fought contest. 20 of those points came in the second half and the most important of which was a late clock, deep three-ball over the outstretched Nico Carvacho in the final 30 seconds.

The Rams spent most of the game clawing back from an early deficit and when Adam Thistlewood nailed a three-ball to get the Rams to within 73-72 inside of 10 seconds there was hope for some Moby Magic. It wasnt to be as Utah State guard Abel Porter nailed a pair of free throws and a late Thistlewood three rattled around the rim.

With that miss, the Aggies had scored a huge road victory, moving into 2nd place in the MWC standings and firming up their resumer for an at-large NCAA bid.

The Aggies began the game crisply and ran out to a 16-7 lead only to see the Rams reel them in. That trend of Aggie building lead then getting reeled in continued up until the final 4 minutes. Merrill and center Neemias Queta were scoring inside and out. For the Rams it was sensational freshman Isaiah Stevens scoring in the mid-range supported by a balanced attack from Carvacho, David Roddy, Adam Thistlewood, and Kris Martin.

But it wasnt to be for the young Rams as repeated errors cost them dearly. Multiple uncontested layups on Aggie inbound plays. Out of control close-outs leading to more easy buckets in the paint. And a staggering failure to commit repeatedly to a defensive game plan designed to force Merrill off the 3-point line. Merrill was able to get 10 shots off from beyond the arc and he made 6 of them.

The young Rams played hard, they fought to the bitter end and there was no shame in the loss. But they also learned a valuable lesson. Playing at the highest levels requires more than grit and determination. It requires strict adherence and discipline to a game plan for a full 40 minutes. It cant come in spurts to overcome an NCAA Tournament level team like Utah State. Its more than a simple play here or a play there to get over the top. Its playing the right way on every possession.

Other Stuff…

So I went back and forth with another passionate Ram fan during the game regarding how to stop Merrill. He suggested a box-and-one defense. I fired back how about a triangle and 2 with a pair of defenders chasing Merrill. I mean what the heck, who would you rather have shooting – Sam Merrill or Diogo Brito?

I also asked the coaches why they didnt throw a heavy double team at Merrill at the end of the game to keep the ball out of his hands. I was told that they actually tried to trap Merrill when he came off a ball screen but they weren’t successful. Bottom line is that Utah State sets really good screens, Sam Merrill is a big strong guy that knows how to use screens, and the Rams weren’t able to control him this time. He is very good.

Carvacho and Queta battled for the entire game and Queta has a slight edge, going for 14 and 11 while Carvacho had 12 and 9. Queta unleashed an unstoppable jump hook from the right baseline several times. Carvacho finished hard at the rim. Both were clean and physical. No BS to eithers’ game last night.

But amazingly, it was David Roddy who was the. Most dominant defensive force in the paint. Queta had 2 blocks, but Roddy delivered 4 blocked shots, on top of 10 points and 7 rebounds. He more than neutralized a tough match up in Utah State’s Justin Bean

Isaiah Stevens was absolutely brilliant, save for a couple of sloppy turnovers. He displayed a mid-range game that was Chris Paul-esque, shooting pull-up jumpers, runners, and attacking the rim. Several were of the extremely difficult variety, having to launch over Queta guarding the paint. Stevens finished with 19 points, including 8-9 on his 2-point attempts.

And finally…

I cannot thank my fellow Ram fans enough for stopping by and seeing how I’m recovering from my hip surgery. Thanks Mallory, Traci, Ben, Todd. Thanks to people like Coloradoan beat writer Kevin Lytle too for checking up on me. I love great college basketball games. I’m getting them in Moby now and I’m getting to share them with my extended Ram family. Yes I hate seeing a loss. But some things are bigger than the final score.

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