Utah State guard Sam Merrill had 19 of his 28 points in the second half and Justin Bean had his second career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds when the host No. 17 Aggies held off the Montana State Bobcats 81-73 in the season opener for both Tuesday.
Junior college transfer Alphonso Anderson had 13 points and six rebounds and Abel Porter had 10 points when the Aggies used a 10-0 run to break a tie at 66 and pull away from hot-shooting Harald Frey and the Bobcats.
Senior guard Frey had a career-high 34 points and tied a career high with six 3-pointers, Jubrile Belo had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Mychael Paulo had 10 points for the Bobcats in the 119th meeting between the two.
Anderson had 10 of his 13 points in the final 7:02, including all eight free throws. He hit a layup and two foul shots for a 68-66 lead with 3:47 remaining, and his free throws capped the run for a 74-66 lead with 1:44 remaining. There were eight lead changes in the second half.
Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year Merrill made 5-of-14 field goal attempts and a school-record 17 free throws in 18 attempts.
The Aggies shot only 37.7 percent from the field to the Bobcats’ 42.1 but were 35-of-45 from the free throw line.
Utah State had a 41-36 rebounding advantage despite playing without center Neemias Queta, who is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered in July. Queta was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and the Freshman of the Year last season.
Seven-foot-2 center Kuba Karwowski did not score but had five rebounds and four blocked shots in 19 minutes while starting in place of Queta, although the Aggies played a smaller group most of the game.
The Aggies led by as many as nine in the first half but Frey had 13 points and two 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Bobcats within 37-34 at halftime.
—Field Level Media