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The Ram killer strikes again — Sam Merrill goes off in another impressive showing at Moby Arena

Justin Michael Avatar
February 12, 2020

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Sam Merrill and the Utah State Aggies lost to Colorado State men’s basketball in each of the first three meetings of his career. But at this point, that feels like a long forgotten memory.

Including Tuesday night’s 75-72 road victory over the Rams, Merrill has led the Aggies to five consecutive wins over CSU. Dating back to the 2018 Mountain West Tournament, when Utah State’s winning string over the green and gold began, Merrill has averaged 25 points, 5.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds in games against the Rams.

In his last two games at Moby, Merrill has been particularly impressive. After dropping 38 on the Rams in Fort Collins last season, Merrill followed it up with a 32 point performance on Tuesday night. What’s more, Merrill shot 66 percent from the floor in those two games.

“He plays at his own pace. That’s something he does at an elite level,” Rams assistant coach Ali Farokhmanesh said of Merrill prior to the game.

“He just plays at his own pace all the time. It’s hard to speed him up. It’s hard to get him to do things that you want him to do.”

Farokhmanesh explained that Merrill, despite not being the most explosive athlete on the floor, does a tremendous job of using the pick and roll to free up space for him to either attack the hoop or get an open shot.

“He’s not overtly quick. He’s not going to blow by you but he plays at his own pace and he’s always a threat to shoot,” Farokhmanesh said. “That’s what makes him so hard to guard.”

On Tuesday, Merrill did exactly what the staff thought he would do — execute the pick and roll to perfection and knock down big-time shots. Merrill finished an impressive 6-of-10 from 3-point land in the victory, with many of the shots coming off of a screen around the top of the key. The Rams did their best to keep up with the talented senior but for the most part, he was able to create whatever offense he wanted.

“I thought there were a couple where we let him get going, and then he made some tough shots like he always does,” head coach Niko Medved said postgame.

While there are no moral victories at this level — Medved said as much postgame — Ram fans can take some solace in the fact that on a night where Merrill and Neemias Queta were in peak form, CSU was a 3-pointer away from forcing the game to overtime.

“It’s a tough loss. That was a big game,” Medved said. “I thought our guys played hard but I was never worried about that. Playing hard just isn’t good enough. It’s kinda the price of admission.”

It’s clear that this young Rams team still has room for improvement. As CSU found out the hard way on Tuesday, a poor couple of minutes can really come back to haunt you. If the Rams are going to take things to the next level, they have to be able to truly lock it in for a full 40 minutes.

That said, it’s tough to be all that down on a team that is clearly on the rise. If the Rams can fix a few things defensively and knock down shots at the same rate that they did in the second half, they should at the very least be competitive in every game from here on out — especially with Isaiah Stevens playing at such an elite level.

Stevens led the Rams with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting Tuesday night in what was a Merrell-esque performance. If the freshman from Allen, Texas, can continue to score at an efficient rate while also creating for his teammates, the Rams are going to be in good hands for years to come.

Much like Merrill, Stevens plays the game with incredible poise and just seems to see the floor in a way that others don’t. He doesn’t have the size that his Aggie counterpart possesses — Merrill is listed at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, while Stevens is only 6-foot-0, 160 pounds.

But what Stevens lacks in size, he makes up for with quickness. More importantly, Stevens’ basketball IQ is what truly allows him to offset any disadvantages that his smaller frame may present. It really would not be surprising at all if two years from now, the Utah State fans are just as tired of Stevens as the Ram fans currently are of Merrill.


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