Utah State got a scare but defended its national ranking Tuesday night to open the 2019-20 college basketball season.
The No. 17 Aggies, buoyed by free throws, got 28 points from Sam Merrill and survived to defeat Montana State 81-73 at the Spectrum in Logan.
"I knew this was going to be a tough game. I've been on edge a little bit here the last 10 days or so because it's difficult," USU head coach Craig Smith said. "They kind of flipped the script from where we were last year, quite frankly. A new coach. A whole bunch of new players. Inexperienced.
"And when you're preparing, and we're pretty detailed in our prep, when you have 10 new players from all over the place and you don't know what they're going to run, they had us off-balanced all night, quite frankly."
Point guard Harald Frey led an inexperienced Montana State team, scoring a career high 34 points which included shooting 6 of 10 from deep.
The Bobcats held a small lead late but USU went ahead for good 68-66 with 3:47 left on free throws from Alphonso Anderson, who scored 13 points on the night.
"Frey is a heck of player and, obviously, went ballistic," Smith said. "Once you start getting going like that, it's hard to stop a guy. We were throwing the kitchen sink at him, to not much success. At the end of the day, we get down three late and have seven straight stops to get us in the lead."
Justin Bean added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Abel Porter scored 10 points for Utah State, which was playing without star center Neemias Queta. Queta is still rehabbing a knee injury suffered during the summer in international play.
Merrill shot 17 of 18 from the free-throw line, tying a school record for most freebies in a game. The Aggies shot 35 of 45 from the charity stripe.
Utah State improved to 79-40 all-time against Montana State. The matchup is the third-most played series in USU history.
USU next hosts Weber State at 7 p.m. Friday in WSU’s season opener.
UTAH 79, NEVADA 74
Utah controlled the glass and got big shots from Timmy Allen and Both Gach to outlast Nevada on the road Tuesday night.
Allen totaled 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Utes while Gach added 22 points. Gach hit three 3-pointers in the second half to help Utah withstand a Nevada run that gave the Wolf Pack a two-point lead with 7:19 left.
Former Utah prep star freshmen factored in the win. Branden Carlson of Bingham High scored eight points, Olympus alum Rylan Jones dished a team-high five assists, and former Ridgeline star Jaxon Brenchley had two points and two rebounds.
The Utes shot a poor 5 of 23 from deep but outrebounded Nevada 51-32, including 13-4 on the offensive glass.
Utah hosts Mississippi Valley State on Friday.
BYU 76, CS-FULLERTON 58
With star forward Yoeli Childs serving the first of his nine-game suspension, guards Alex Barcello and TJ Haws each scored 17 points to lead BYU to a season-opening win over Cal State Fullerton in Provo in the first game for new head coach Mark Pope.
Barcello, a transfer from Arizona, was recently granted a waiver to make him eligible to play this season.
BYU shot 11 of 24 from the 3-point line, an early improvement over several seasons of lackluster shooting from deep. The Cougars pulled away from Fullerton late in the first half and slowly extended a single-digit lead to as much as 24.
Connor Harding scored 11 and grabbed eight rebounds, joining Zac Seljaas as leading rebounders for BYU.
The Cougars next host San Diego State on Saturday.
UTAH VALLEY 72, WESTMINSTER 55
Isaiah White scored 25 points and Utah Valley outlasted Division-II Westminster College.
AROUND THE BIG SKY
Idaho State battled Wyoming for 40 ugly minutes before losing 54-40. Northern Colorado lost at Texas 69-45. Those were the only other matchups outside of Utah State vs. Montana State that featured two Division I teams.
Eastern Washington embarrassingly won 107-25 against Portland Bible College. Southern Utah beat Bethesda College 110-66.
Idaho, which lost both its exhibition games to non-Division I opponents, narrowly escaped NAIA foe Evergreen State College 88-82, while Portland State beat Puget Sound 94-69.