SALT LAKE CITY — For at least the first half Saturday, Weber State’s shooting slump followed it back from Fresno. By the time the Wildcats snapped out of their funk from three days ago, it was too late.

Sam Merrill knocked down three 3-pointers on the way to 19 points and Utah State defeated Weber State 76-67 in the second game of the Beehive Classic at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

WSU shot 36 percent in the first half, including 2 of 11 from deep, and trailed by 12 at halftime.

“We didn’t do what we had to do to be successful,” senior center Zach Braxton said. “When we got to the games, nothing was what Weber State does ... two teams we could’ve beat and we didn’t come out the right way in either game.

“We play a lot harder than that, a lot faster than that, with more passion, more together than that — and we didn’t do it. That’s on us as players,” Braxton said.

USU appeared to put the contest away with 8:39 left when Tauriawn Knight scored a layup while fouled, made his free throw and gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game at 57-40.

After Cody John, who finished with a team-high 16 points, carried Weber’s struggling offense in the first half, Caleb Nero was a second-half spark that nearly brought the Wildcats all the way back.

Nero scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, including eight points of a 13-2 run that brought the score to 59-53 with 5:50 left in the contest. He nailed a pair of 3-pointers and converted a tough look at the basket in the sequence.

Brock Miller damaged Weber’s chances at a comeback by hitting a 3 from the corner to put USU up 66-57 with 3:47 remaining.

Despite going scoreless for just more than two minutes of crunch time, Weber cut the game to six points again when Nero hit a floater in the lane while fouled and made his free throw.

That made it 68-62 with 59 seconds left, but that’s as close as it would get.

While the Wildcats (5-4) held USU to 10 points below its season average, Merrill kept the Aggies (8-2) going in the first half. He scored 11 points in the frame, including all three of his 3-pointers — one of which came after he shook John with a crossover and stepped back into a swish.

After shooting 17 of 51 on Wednesday in Fresno, including 4 of 20 from 3, the Wildcats shot poorly in the first frame Saturday before totaling 44 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3 in the second half.

Still, WSU shot 10 of 41 from the 3-point line this week.

“If you look at the defensive efficiency (of Fresno and USU), they’re like top 40 in the country. So it’s a little bit of both. We’re not shooting the ball very well ... and we played two really good defenses,” Rahe said.

“I thought our confidence wasn’t great. We got it going in the second half a little bit. I think we’ll snap out of it, but credit to those teams and how they guard you,” he said.

Braxton finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Brekkott Chapman scored 11 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and two steals, adding two blocks.

Jerrick Harding scored nine points, dished two assists and blocked two shots in the loss.

“They pose a lot of mismatch problems with you because their guards are so quick and crafty and can really get to the rim. I thought we did a great job on No. 10 for them,” Utah State head coach Craig Smith said.

“It wasn’t just the one-on-one matchup with him, we had to have all five guys guarding the ball. I think he was averaging almost 23 a game,” Smith said about Harding.

Weber State next plays Utah Valley on Saturday, Dec. 15.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/

@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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