Sam Merrill Sends Utah State to the Big Dance With Clutch Three to Upset San Diego State

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Feeling the madness yet, America?

Utah State is the first team to punch an official ticket to the 2020 NCAA tournament after knocking off No. 5 San Diego State in a thrilling Mountain West championship game, 59-56

With three minutes to go in the first half, things were looking bleak for the Aggies, who had scored just 11 points and trailed by 16 to the 30-1 Aztecs. But Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta rallied Utah State in the second half, taking a late lead before a Malachi Flynn jumper put SDSU back in front by one with 1:06 to go.

Merrill responded by drawing a foul on KJ Feagin, making one of two free throws to tie things up. A missed three by Flynn gave the Aggies the ball back, and Merrill wound the clock all the way down before pulling up and draining a deep three-point attempt with 2.5 seconds to go.

Flynn got a great look at a half-court heave as the buzzer sounded, but his Hail Mary rimmed out, setting off pandemonium among the Aggies and their supporters in Las Vegas.

Utah State entered the Mountain West tournament knowing it would need to win the conference's automatic bid to avoid feeling incredibly nervous heading into Selection Sunday. The Aggies were among the First Eight Out in SI.com's Friday Bracket Watch update, and were not among the field of 68 in the Bracket Matrix consensus. 

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Knocking off San Diego State was a tall task, especially after the Aztecs swept Utah State in the regular season. The only team to beat SDSU before Saturday was UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels claimed the marquee win at Viejas Arena on Feb. 22.

Merrill, a senior, finished with 27 points as the night's hero, while the 7-foot Queta added 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, including multiple clutch buckets in the Aggies' late run.

Utah State will enter the NCAA tournament at 28-6 on the year, its best wins being over San Diego State, Florida and LSU. It'll be the team's second straight trip to the Big Dance after earning a No. 8 seed and losing in the first round last year.

The Aztecs are hoping the championship game loss won't knock them from the No. 1 seed line on Selection Sunday, but they can only sit and wait now as major conference tournaments get underway next week. They'll enter the Big Dance at 30-2, with wins that include Iowa, BYU and Creighton.