Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Best games from 2019-20 season – LSU vs. Utah State

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)
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) /

A clash in Jamaica between LSU and Utah State became quite the thriller; let’s see how it all unfolded.

Though the college basketball season was shortened by the national pandemic, there was still plenty of action earlier in the season. There were exciting matchups and amazing performances that deserve to be remembered. We continue our look at the 40 best games of the 2019-20 season, with today’s focus on an early-season matchup from Jamaica that lived up to the hype.

light. Related Story. No. 35 game of 2019-20 season

34. #15 Utah State 80, LSU 78 (Jamaica Classic)

November 22, 2019, Montego Bay Convention Centre in Montego Bay, Jamaica

One of the most exciting parts of the early college basketball season is the nonconference tournaments that take place in the opening weeks of the season. While it’s not exactly the Maui Invitational, the Jamaica Classic gave us plenty of excitement with a pretty solid four-team field. Among those teams, Utah State and LSU, who had both been ranked to start the season, gave us an opening round clash to remember.

LSU had been picked to finish third in the SEC after a great run to the Sweet Sixteen the year before. Head coach Will Wade had already started building something impressive with the Tigers, highlighted by elite recruit Trendon Watford. The Tigers had lost just over a week earlier in a tight road game at VCU, otherwise, they likely would have been ranked headed down to Jamaica.

Across the court, Utah State was in impressive shape themselves. In his first season, head coach Craig Smith led the Aggies to 28 wins and a Mountain West Tournament title. With senior sharpshooter, Sam Merrill among those back, expectations was even higher for Utah State. The Aggies had won their first five games and risen to #15 in the rankings, heading to Jamaica with a chance to pick up a few wins to defend that high ranking.

It quickly looked like the Aggies were not up to that challenge, as LSU had built a 10-2 just over two minutes into the game. Utah State’s offense would emerge moving forward, but they had no response for LSU’s outside shooting. After just eight minutes had elapsed, LSU had already made six 3-pointers and built a 28-13, confirming the nightmare start for Utah State.

Merrill hit a few 3-pointers of his own, and Utah State’s defense played slightly better moving forward, but it wasn’t enough to pull close to the Tigers again. The Aggies only made one basket in the final four minutes of the half, helping the Tigers to a 44-30 lead at the half, a major hole as a result of that amazing shooting. At halftime, LSU had made 9 of their 18 3-point attempts and that hot shooting was sinking the Aggies.

A 10-5 run by LSU gave them a 19-point lead in the second half, punctuated by another 3-pointer from Skylar Mays, his fourth of the game. However, Utah State still had a lot of fight left in them. Merrill got things going with four free throws, while key shots from Brock Miller and Alphonso Anderson helped get the Aggies offense on track. With just under ten minutes left, Utah State’s offense had pulled to within 5 on a layup from Justin Bean, but LSU had an answer.

LSU scored the next seven points, with five of them from Skylar Mays, but Merrill had his own answer. Sam put up five points in a hurry, while a pair of baskets from Alphonso Anderson pulled Utah State back into the game. Justin Bean’s free throw with four points left finally tied the game, with LSU’s defense unable to stop Utah State’s offensive charge.

Mays and Anderson traded 3-pointers, but Mays put LSU back on top with a layup, steal, and pair of free throws with just two minutes left. Defense, however, would play a major role down the stretch, as both star players would turn the ball over late, but it was Utah State who got the last laugh. Merrill hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left that became the deciding factor, giving Utah State the incredible comeback victory.

In the end, it was the Aggies who performed better from long distance, making 50% of their 3-pointers in the comeback win. Led by 24-point efforts from both Merrill and Anderson, the offense woke up in the second half and fought their way back into the game bit by bit. Mays had 30 points for LSU and was really efficient from the field, but LSU just didn’t do enough in the second half to hold the lead.

LSU played up to those high expectations, even after blowing what would have been a fantastic early-season victory. Though they suffered disappointing losses to East Tennessee State and Vanderbilt, the Tigers did tie for second place in the SEC, winning their first eight SEC games in the process. The Tigers nearly defeated Kentucky and would have had the firepower to make considerable progress in the postseason.

Utah State had been expected to win the Mountain West, but everyone was surprised by the stellar play of San Diego State this season. The Aggies did finish second in the conference and once again got the last laugh, knocking off the Aztecs in early March in a thrilling Mountain West Tournament title game. Merrill continued to star for the Aggies, who were unfortunately robbed of another NCAA Tournament opportunity by the pandemic.

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Heartbreak for LSU only propelled them forward, while Utah State put everything together not only in the second half but later in their season. These were two NCAA Tournament teams who put together quite a show for us in Jamaica. With stars like Mays and Merrill, either team could have made their way into the second weekend had the NCAA Tournament taken place.