LOGAN, Utah — Sam Merrill scored 28 points and No. 17 Utah State beat Montana State 81-73 Tuesday night in the season opener for both teams.
Alphonso Anderson and Justin Bean each added 13 points for the Aggies. Utah State overcame 37.7% shooting from the field to hold off the Bobcats by getting to the line. The Aggies went 35 of 45 from the free-throw line.
Harald Frey led Montana State with 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting. The Bobcats had 15 turnovers, leading to 14 points for Utah State.
Anderson’s steal and layup helped spark a decisive 10-0 run that gave Utah State a 74-66 lead with 1:48 remaining. Anderson capped the spurt with two free throws.
Montana State cut it to three on a three-point play from Finn Fleute. Brock Miller answered with a corner 3 with 30 seconds left.
Diogo Brito buried a corner 3 to spark a 12-5 run that helped Utah State carve out a 22-15 lead. The Aggies missed 10 of their first 14 shots before the basket but hit 4 of 5 during the run.
Utah State could not find any consistency on offense before halftime. The Aggies missed their final eight shots of the first half and went almost seven minutes without a basket.
It opened the door for Montana State to rally.
Frey pulled the Bobcats within one when he converted a three-point play to cut Utah State’s lead to 35-34 with 40.2 seconds remaining in the half. The senior guard kept making big plays well into the second half. He made three straight 3-pointers and then followed with a three-point play to help Montana State pull within a point again at 49-48.
The Bobcats finally took a 55-54 lead on Michael Paulo’s layup with 10:09 left.
Montana State: The Bobcats successfully attacked on the perimeter for the better part of 40 minutes to give themselves a chance at pulling an upset. Montana State shot 9 of 19 from the perimeter. Frey accounted for six of those outside baskets.
Utah State: Sophomore center Neemias Queta, who is still rehabbing a knee injury he suffered in July, did not play for the Aggies. Kuba Karwowski filled in and provided one of the game’s biggest defensive highlights when he blocked three straight shots over the final three seconds before halftime.
Montana State hosts Rocky Mountain College, an NAIA school, on Saturday.