Sam Merrill sank a deep 3-pointer with six seconds remaining for the last of his 27 points, and Utah State upset No. 5-ranked San Diego State 59-56 on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game in Las Vegas.
Utah State (26-8), which concluded its semifinal win over Wyoming less than 16 hours before the tipoff of Saturday's final in Las Vegas, started the game sluggish. San Diego State (30-2) went ahead by 16 points with 2:56 left before halftime.
But Merrill ignited the spark that set the contest on its path to his dramatic finish. He scored seven consecutive points, followed by a buzzer-beating, Diogo Brito 3-pointer that sent the Aggies into halftime within single digits (29-21) of the regular-season champion Aztecs.
Utah State scored the first seven points out of intermission, and from there, it was back-and-forth throughout.
Neemias Queta was big for the Aggies down the stretch, exploiting a size mismatch in the post to score seven of his 15 points in the final 6:35, and 11 in the second half. Queta also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
Alphonso Anderson's contribution off the bench proved critical. He made back-to-back 3-pointers in one stretch, and scored all eight of his points in the second half.
San Diego State's typically reliable 3-point shooting went cold, as the Aztecs shot just 26.3 percent from deep. Matt Mitchell, who made three consecutive 3-pointers in San Diego State's Feb. 1 win over Utah State, went 0-for-2 from deep on Saturday and finished with just four points.
Malachi Flynn scored 16 points but shot just 6 of 20 from the floor for the Aztecs. His last miss was a heave from just inside the half-court line that rolled off the rim as time expired.
Yanni Wetzell scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds for San Diego State, while KJ Feagin added 11 points. Jordan Schakel, one of the Aztecs' core scoring contributors on the year, was held scoreless on Saturday.
With the win, Utah State earned the Mountain West's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies came into Saturday's title game in a tenuous spot for an at-large berth at No. 43 in the NCAA NET rankings.
The loss complicates San Diego State's aspirations of a No. 1 seed when the bracket is revealed on March 15.
--Field Level Media