When the Spectrum bordered on reaching a fever pitch before the game, the Bears came out and established control. When Utah State rallied from a 38-28 deficit in the second half and took a 55-49 lead with 4:35 left, Mercer rallied never panicking and always executing.
When the Bears needed a defensive stop, they made it happen. When free throws needed to be made, Mercer was virtually perfect from the line, while the Aggies faltered. The Bears, simply put, played better in crunch time. And eventually, Utah State's mistakes proved fatal.
"Mercer has won 27 games for a reason," Aggies coach Stew Morrill said. "That's a very good basketball team. You have to believe that they deserved to win this tournament. They won three games in this tournament on the road. We looked like we were in good shape when we went up by six. But then we couldn't get them stopped. They scored, and we kept missing. So there you go."
Utah State had a shot to tie the game and send things into overtime, but Brockeith Pane's 30-footer bounced off the front of the rim, sending Mercer and the few fans that made the trip from Atlanta into a frenzy.
The defeat meant USU didn't get to celebrate the first postseason basketball title in the history of the program. The Aggies finish at 21-16, still a great ending to a frustrating season. Utah State won 20-plus games for a 13th straight year, and seven of its final nine contests.
But with senior center Morgan Grim in tears as USU accepted the runner-up trophy, and the rest of the bench looking on dejectedly, it was easy to tell that Utah State looked forward to finishing its run through the CIT on a better note.
"Mercer's a great team," sophomore guard Preston Medlin said. "They won 27 games, and only great teams can do that. We fought hard to get to 21-16, and that's something we're proud of. We went out, and had a big turnaround and had a lot of fun doing it."
Kyisean Reed led the Aggies with 15 points and seven rebounds, putting on a dunking display in the process. Medlin had 14 points, while Pane, in his last game at Utah State, had 10 points and five assists.
Pane and Medlin were named to the all-tournament team. Mercer point guard Langston Hall, who scored 16 points, was named the tourney's Most Valuable Player.
Mercer 70, USU 67
R Utah State falls in the CIT finale and finishes the season 21-16 overall.
• The Aggies overcome a 10-point second-half deficit to take a 55-49 lead with four minutes remaining.
• Mercer outscores Utah State 21-12 the rest of the way.