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3 takeaways from a tough loss to Sam Merrill and the Utah State Aggies

Justin Michael Avatar
February 12, 2020

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State men’s basketball never stopped fighting Tuesday night but the Rams ultimately fell short, losing 75-72 to Utah State at Moby Arena.

The loss snapped CSU’s three-game winning streak and drops the Rams from second place in the league to a two-way tie with Nevada for fourth. The difference between second and sixth place is currently just two games, though, so the standings are far from final.

Despite falling by just a single possession, the Aggies were pretty much in control from start to finish. Utah State never trailed and led for all but 45 seconds Tuesday night — the first 17 seconds before the Aggies’ opening bucket and the 28 seconds after David Roddy tied the game at 2-2.

After Brock Miller’s 3-pointer at the 19:01 mark of the first half (5-2), the Aggies were able to command of the game and never really looked back.

Here’s everything that went down Tuesday night and three takeaways from the narrow loss.

Quick Hitters

Sam Merrill put on a show. The senior guard finished with a game-high 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting. Where he did most of his damage was from beyond the 3-point arc — Merrill hit 6-of-10 3’s in the win as he reminded everyone just how lethal he can be from deep.

Along with Merrill, Neemias Queta was a beast. Even after getting into foul trouble and sitting for 10 consecutive minutes of gameplay, Queta still managed to throw out a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Just about every time he got the ball in the post, it was seemingly an easy bucket for the 6-foot-11, 225-pound, center from Barreiro, Portugal. It didn’t matter if there was a hand in his face or a man on his chest, Queta was able to create space and finish around the rim. With the officials allowing Queta to consistently extend his forearm, the sophomore phenom looked damn near unguardable — especially with how he was able to routinely finish in the paint.

Flipping over to CSU, the Rams were led by freshman point guard Isaiah Stevens. Stevens paced the home team with 19 points and was incredibly efficient from the field (9-of-12).

In total, four of CSU’s five starters finished the night in double-digit figures. Nico Carvacho tallied 12 points, nine rebounds. Adam Thistlewood had 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting and David Roddy added 10 points, seven rebounds as well.

Team Stats | (CSU vs. USU)

  • Points in the paint: (38 vs. 38)
  • Second chance points: (11 vs. 4)
  • Fast break points: (7 vs. 14)
  • Bench points: (15 vs. 11)
  • Total rebounds: (29 vs. 33)
  • Turnovers: (10 vs. 8)
  • Time with lead: (00:00 vs. 39:15)
  • Biggest scoring run: (10 vs. 6)

Utah State is a dangerous team

The Aggies have stumbled at times but they’re definitely playing their best ball of late. With Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta both rolling, Utah State looks like a squad that very well could win out and sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

The trip to Moby was Utah State’s toughest remaining game on the slate and now with four games to play, the Aggies should be heavy favorites from here on out. Utah State cannot overlook a pesky Fresno State team or a game at ‘The Pit’ on Feb. 29 — both will test the focus of Craig Smith’s talented group.

With the veterans that Smith has on his roster, though, I would be very surprised to see them slip up down the stretch.

The Aggies were the unanimous preseason pick to win the Mountain West for a reason. They have the best one-two punch in the league and their role players are extremely committed to doing the little things on every single possession.

After battling injuries and dealing with some kinks in the rotation, it’s extremely clear that they are a team that nobody will want to deal with in Las Vegas.

Rams still have room to grow

CSU has undoubtedly shown great improvement in 2019-20. With three more wins this month, the Rams will have as many victories over Mountain West opponents this season as they had in the last two seasons combined.

However, as exciting as the turnaround has been, there is certainly still room for improvement — particularly on defense.

As a whole, the Rams have been a lot better defensively in Medved’s second season at the helm. CSU is allowing 3.4 points less per game as a team and when you look at the individual metrics, every single player that returned from last season is allowing less points per 100 possessions this time around.

Even so, when the Rams have had to go up against some of the better squads this season, the inexperience of CSU’s roster has been exploited by opponents — which is why the staff has often turned to Hyron Edwards Jr. and Kris Martin when things have gotten shaky on the defensive end.

I have no doubts that the underclassmen will become more consistent defensively as they continue to develop with the staff. Just seeing the strides Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore have taken from year one to year two, and the improvement that this year’s freshmen have shown in less than a full season, reassures me that the coaches are emphasizing the right things.

At this point, though, I would be lying if I said that facing a dangerous offense like San Diego State’s or Utah State’s in the Mountain West Tournament, wouldn’t make me nervous.

The race to Las Vegas continues

Securing the No. 2 seed is a long shot after dropping both games against Utah State and the one regular season meeting with Boise State.

As we addressed above, the Aggies really don’t have a difficult remaining schedule so counting on them to lose multiple games over the final two weeks is likely unrealistic. Boise State, on the other hand, still has to host San Diego State and travel to both San Jose State and UNLV.

Honestly, even catching the Broncos for the No. 3 seed is going to be pretty tough. But if the Rams go at least 4-1 over their final five games and Boise State only goes. 500 over their final four, CSU would have a really strong chance to leapfrog the Broncos and steal the 3-seed.

Nevada is still in the running to finish in the top 3 as well. The Wolf Pack are currently tied with the Rams with an 8-5 record against the MW. But with three of Nevada’s final five games being on the road and a home game against the mighty Aztecs still to play, the final stretch will be a gauntlet for Steve Alford.

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