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July 27, 2021

Utah State earns 2nd seed in MWC tourney by beating Fresno State in regular-season finale

SALT LAKE CITY — The last time Utah State was in the Mountain West Tournament, it had some guy named Sam Merrill hitting a near-buzzer-beating 3 to win the whole thing.

On Saturday, in the Aggies’ regular-season finale, they had two players who certainly looked to be auditioning to be USU’s next March hero.

Alphonso Anderson and Rollie Worster hit back-to-back triples in the final 1:34 of the game as the Aggies overcame a 12-point deficit to beat Fresno State 57-51 in their final tuneup for the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.

Utah State locked up the No. 2 seed in the tournament starting next week. But before it could get to Vegas, USU had to go on a quick road trip to Fresno. And, frankly, it would have been hard to imagine a worse start to a game.

The Aggies opened the contests shooting 4-of-20 from the field and quickly fell down by 12 points. The deficit was 10 at the half and Neemias Queta was silenced, scoring just 2 points in the opening half.

USU opened up the second half, though, on a 11-2 run to close the gap, and Steven Ashworth gave the Aggies their first lead of the contest, 40-39, with a 3-pointer with 9:54 left. From there, it was a back-and-forth contest all the way to the closing minute.

Queta, who finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, found his groove late in the game. He spun away from a double team and hit a baseline jumper, he passed out of a trap to Marco Anthony for a big 3, and then hit a small hook shot on a designed out-of-timeout play.

But it was Anderson and Worster that finally pushed the Aggies over the top.

With USU down a point, Anderson beat the shot-clock buzzer with a 3 with 1:34 left in the game to give the Aggies a late lead. On the next USU possession, Worster added to the advantage, drilling another triple with 37.4 seconds left and just about sealing the game for the road team.

Justin Bean finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds (it’s the fourth straight game Bean and Queta have both finished with double-doubles), Anderson had 11 points and four rebounds and Worster added 9 points, four rebounds and two assists.

The Aggies finish the regular season with an 18-7 overall record with a 15-4 mark in conference play. USU finished mere percentage points behind regular-season champion San Diego State. The Aztecs, who finished with a conference record of 14-3, played two less games than the Aggies, due to COVID-19 cancellations.

But the No. 2 seed has worked out well for the Aggies during the Craig Smith era. The Aggies were the second seed in both of Smith’s first two years, and they ended up cutting down the nets in Vegas both years.

USU begins its tournament run on Thursday at 7 p.m. MT.

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