Senior guard Sam Merrill had 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists, leading the Utah State Aggies to a 65-62 win over the Florida Gators on Saturday afternoon in the annual Orange Bowl Classic at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Merrill, the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, made 8-of-18 shots from the floor, including 5-of-10 on three-pointers.
Utah State (12-2) also got 12 points and nine rebounds from sophomore forward Justin Bean, who might be one of the toughest players in the nation. He has continued to play despite breaking his nose in October and having oral surgery in November after two teeth were damaged during a game against Montana State.
Florida (7-4) was led by graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., who had 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Blackshear, a 6-10 forward who led Virginia Tech to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two years, made just 3-of-14 shots from the floor. However, he drew numerous fouls and made 15 of 17 free throw attempts.
Florida also got 11 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks from freshman guard Scottie Lewis, a McDonald’s All-American.
Utah State, which opened this season 7-0 for its best start in 58 years, led for most of the first half and by as many as seven points. But the Gators rallied to tie the score 27-27 at the break.
Neither team shot well from the floor in the first half, and that’s especially true of Florida (29.0 percent). Utah State shot 40.7 percent but was outscored at the foul line 6-1. In fact, Blackshear, who went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the first half and had 11 points, did a lot to keep the Gators alive.
Florida led 55-54 with about 6 minutes left in the half. From there, however, Utah State made a 9-2 run to take control.
For the game, Utah State held Florida to 32.3 percent shooting, including 4-of-17 on three-pointers (23.5 percent). Utah State shot 45.3 percent, including 9-of-25 on three-pointers (36.0 percent).
—Field Level Media