Mercer beats Utah State 70-67 for CIT title
LOGAN, Utah (AP) Even without winning a championship, Utah State turned the CIT into a worthwhile postseason experience.
Travis Smith came off the bench to score 17 points, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 90 seconds left, and Mercer won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament by beating the Aggies 70-67 on Wednesday night.
"I've told the guys all week that no matter what happens, it's been a positive thing," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "It's been good for us. The seniors got to go out winning some games rather than a two-point loss in the conference tournament. It's a good taste in their mouths."
Medlin, Utah State's leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, was held to 4-of-10 shooting. The sophomore made nine of 13 shots from the field and went 4 of 5 from 3-point range in the semifinal win Sunday against Oakland.
"They started well in the first half and kept that up," Medlin said. "We fought hard to get to 21-16 and that's something we are proud of. We went out and had fun in this tournament and got five extra games on the season. We just need to carry it over to next year."
Mercer won three straight road games in the CIT, including at Old Dominion and the championship game in the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum.
"This is a huge step in our program," coach Bob Hoffman said. "I just came to drive the bus, but these are some players that believe in each other. We've won on the road all season."
Behind four consecutive dunks by Reed, Utah State roared back and tied the game with 5:55 to go when Berger tipped in a missed shot. Playing at home, the Aggies held the lead for most of the next 4 1/2 minutes until Smith nailed a 3 with 1:30 remaining to give the Bears a 60-57 edge.
"My team needed me to make a big shot," Smith said. "Anybody on this team can be the leading scorer and get hot and we get him the ball. We have composure. We've been in tough situations all year."
Hall made four free throws in the final 15 seconds to preserve the victory, negating late free throws by Pane and layup by Ben Clifford.
"After those dunks, Coach told us we needed to play with our principles," Smith said. "We went back to our principles and showed some real resiliency."
Hoffman agreed, saying his team showed "great tenacity in a great environment."
Mercer stretched a 31-22 halftime lead to 38-28 with 17:15 to play on consecutive baskets in the paint by Daniel Coursey.
Utah State, which scored 60 points on 70 percent shooting in the first half of its 105-81 win over Oakland, shot only 7 of 22 in the opening half Wednesday. Several players missed point-blank shots close to the basket as the Aggies were outscored 18-8 in the paint.
Reed sat out much of the first half, picking up his third foul with 7:28 to play. Mercer also forced eight first-half turnovers while only giving up the ball once.
"They just played smarter than us a couple of times and that was basically the biggest difference," said Morrill, who finished his 13th straight 20-win season. "They scored, we kept missing, so there you go."
Mercer was 13-8 on the road this season.
"You had to believe that they could win this tournament when they win three games on the road," Morrill said. "They've got a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. They've got a lot of different guys that can score. They've won 27 ballgames for a reason."
Updated March 29, 2012