LOGAN — More than a half-hour after Idaho State’s loss at Utah State, a Bengal assistant coach congratulated one of his players on a job well done.
“I don’t feel like it though, coach,” the player responded.
Perhaps that mindset is exactly why ISU gave USU all it could handle Saturday night at the Smith Spectrum. Aggie coach Stew Morrill thought along a similar line, saying that the Bengals’ hard-nosed play and a wing-denying 1-1-3 zone defense caused 17 USU turnovers and almost cost the Aggies their season-opening 56-48 win.
Morrill repeatedly said that ISU was effective in their defensive approach, but still wasn’t pleased with his own group.
“If we were on the road somewhere, we’d get the chant of ‘overrated,’ ” he said. “We’ll take it and learn from it.”
On Saturday, Spencer Butterfield didn’t need much time on the learning curve. The Yuba Community College transfer and California Junior College co-player of the year was a perfect 3 of 3 in the second half from beyond the arc, accounting for all nine of his points in 15 minutes. His first conversion came at the 9:19 mark of the second half after a Nick Mason 3-pointer made it 37-37 — the only tie of the game’s final 38 minutes. Less than two minutes later, another pushed the lead to six, and the third at the 4:35 mark made it 50-40.
“Coach always tells me I’m next off the bench — to be ready,” said Butterfield, the backup to returning starting small forward Danny Berger. “I knew I could get some open shots.”
It wasn’t that kind of night for most of his teammates — full of spurts but never quite able to separate themselves from their Big Sky foe. With the cutting-edge look of its new main and auxiliary scoreboards and digital ads along the press rows, the Smith Spectrum looked better.
What wasn’t a surprise: Preston Medlin led the Aggies in scoring with 14 points. The preseason WAC player of the year did most of his damage in the first half with 10 points, lifting USU to a 30-23 halftime lead.
And then the Butterfield factor. The 6-foot-3 Loomis, Calif., native said his playing his first Division I game helped his performance.
“It’s everything you dream of,” he said. “With a crowd like this, feel like you don’t get tired because the crowd just picks you up.”
The Aggies didn’t have much of a problem actually scoring when they kept possession. USU shot nearly 47 percent from the field. Its post players — centers Jarred Shaw and Jordan Stone and power forwards Kyisean Reed and Ben Clifford — shot a collective 10 of 20. Medlin was 5 of 7, but Berger just 1 of 4 and new starting point guard TeNale Roland just 2 of 6 with five turnovers. Reed added four. The miscues helped a Bengal team picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky by both the coaches and media.
Morrill said his team faces a “tough challenge” Thursday in Logan against St. Mary’s, whom he said is a top 40 team.
“We will need to find more toughness,” he said. “A lot of our guys lack that confidence right now.”
He won’t use Butterfield as a model, whom Morrill complimented for having what his teammates need.
“That’s not his job, he can’t make them tough,” he said. “Neither can I. They need to do that on their own.”