Neemias Queta and Sam Merrill were robbed of postseason glory.
Teammates for two seasons at Utah State under coach Craig Smith, the final game Queta and Merrill played together was the 2020 Mountain West Conference championship. It turned out to be a classic.
The Aggies were underdogs heading into title tilt against San Diego State, which had lost two games all year. Utah State battled back from a 16-point first-half deficit and worked to tie the game in the final minute.
With 10 seconds left, Merrill called for an isolation near midcourt. Creeping his way to the 3-point line, Merrill swished a cold-blooded trey over the outstretched arms of an Aztecs defender with 2.5 seconds left.
Unfortunately, that went down as the swan song of Merrill and Queta's collegiate partnership, as less than one week later the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
Merrill went on to be a 2020 second-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, and Queta played one more season in Logan, Utah, before being selected by the Kings in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft.
Two-and-a-half years after Merrill's final collegiate bucket, the two Utah State stars are reunited on the Kings' roster heading into training camp. Queta represents one of the Kings' pair of two-way contracts, while Merrill reportedly signed a two-year deal with Sacramento last week.
Keith Smith of Spotrac reported Monday that Merrill received $150,000 of guaranteed money from the Kings. His contract becomes fully guaranteed Jan. 10.
The sharpshooting Merrill, who has played 36 total games for the Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies the past two seasons, will be battling for a roster spot at training camp against recent Kings acquisitions Matthew Dellavedova, Quinn Cook and Kent Bazemore.
During a recent Q&A on the Kings’ Discord channel, Queta named Merrill's clutch shot for the conference title as his favorite basketball game he played in.
"I’ve had a lot of good games that are stuck in my memory -- my good games or whatever it was -- a great atmosphere at the arena or a really balanced game that came down to the last [possession]," Queta said. "I would definitely have to say the championship game in 2020, when we played San Diego State."
Queta heavily contributed to the Aggies' winning effort, tallying 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 36 minutes.
Merrill finished with 26 points and six rebounds in 40 minutes. Six of his 10 makes from the field were from downtown.
“Sam hit the shot at the last second. We won the championship like that,” Queta said. “There’s no better way to win a championship than that way. It’s definitely a memorable experience for me, and I just want to keep mining it.”
Although Utah State is still looking for its first NCAA Tournament win in over a decade, Merrill and Queta provided the program with its only two conference championships since joining the Mountain West in 2013.
Now, the two college teammates will try to contribute to the playoff quest of another postseason-starved team in Sacramento.