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Sam Merrill jumper lifts Utah State past San Diego State, into NCAA tournament

Utah State v Wyoming

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: Sam Merrill #5 of the Utah State Aggies calls out a play during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament against the Wyoming Cowboys at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 6, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

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Sam Merrill is 2020’s first March Madness hero.

The Utah State star buried a deep three-pointer with just under three seconds left to put the Aggies into the 2020 NCAA tournament.

Merrill’s jumper was the difference as Utah State knocked off No. 5 San Diego State, 59-56, in the Mountain West conference title game.

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Before Saturday’s win, Utah State found itself squarely on the bubble. That’s no longer a concern after Merrill’s dagger. The Aggies are dancing for the second consecutive season. After being ranked in the CBT preseason Top 25, Utah State is finally starting to live up to the hype.

Injuries have derailed some of this season for the Aggies. Utah State also struggled to pull off big NCAA tournament-caliber wins even when at full strength. Merrill put the team on his back the biggest week of the season. The senior finished with 27 points to finish off San Diego State. Before Saturday, Merrill had games of 29 points against New Mexico and 27 points against Wyoming.

The in-season struggles and injuries don’t matter anymore. Sam Merrill hit the shot that has the Aggies dancing. Utah State just knocked off a potential No. 1 seed in the conference title game. Suddenly, the Aggies are an intriguing NCAA tournament team behind Merrill and big man Neemias Queta.