LOGAN -- The PA announcer for the Smith Spectrum may have made an announcement Saturday regarding Danny Berger's return, where he had fallen due to cardiac arrest in the same building just days earlier.
Given the crowd's cheering reception to the 22-year-old entrance, it wasn't necessary.
The Medford, Ore., native responded by staring at the main scoreboard above midcourt. He probably wasn't admiring the Coca-Cola or America First Credit Union logos found there.
More than 8,500 screaming Utah State fans, a bevy of posters in his favor and a chant of "Danny Berger" accompanied his entrance into the arena's northwest corner just before tipoff of an 86-57 USU. The chant continued within the final dozen seconds of the contest as well, indicating the fans -- including those in the student section, about two-thirds full despite the weekend before finals week -- hardly forgot Berger's remarkable recovery so far despite a four-minute 18-5 USU run near the game's end.
For Utah State's aesthetic purposes, it's a good thing the scoring outburst accompanied their 86-57 win over Division II Western Oregon. Even more important in that goal, however, may have been the performance of freshman Marcel Davis. His 21 points -- in 20 minutes -- on 9-of-11 shooting were highlighted by an 11-point burst from the American Fork native that entailed five straight scores--including an assist to himself on a self-induced fast break with 6:36 remaining.\
"I try to come into the game with a lot of energy," said Davis, who credited 18-point scorer Medlin and his attacking ability to create space for him. "I told the guys to get the rebounds and 'let's go," and that's what we did."
Davis entered the game when the Aggies were holding onto just a 43-41 lead, which was followed by a turnover from 18-point scorer Preston Medlin. But that preceded a 14-2 run -- capped with a Davis layup with 11:30 remaining -- and sparked by a travel call on Jarred Shaw (15 points, eight rebounds) that caused the Oklahoma State native to give a referee a glare any boxer would have been proud of. \
Shaw's eight rebounds and Kyisean Reed's nine helped the Aggies dominate the smaller Wolves 43-21 on the glass. Shaw at 6-11 and backup center Jordan Stone 6-10 toward over 6-5 WOU forward Andy Avgi, who led the Wolves with 15 points but shot just 5-of-12 and grabbed only two rebounds. (It didn't help, either that with a 260-pound frame, the freshman was treated to chants like "Truffle Shuffle" and "Jelly Donut."
Berger was probably more pleased with the creative statements behind him, which included the following signs:
"Danny has the strongest heart at USU"
"Survivors: James Bond, Bears Grylls, Yoda...
and Danny" "Danny--you stop MY heart"
Matt Andersen is a junior who has taken the role of "Wild" Bill Sproat in heckling opponents while they shoot free throws during the second half. At that time, he showed off a number 12 -- Berger's number -- painted in blue on his plump belly. Trainer Mike Williams preserved Berger's life at the Aggies' practice Tuesday afternoon when he applied a automated external defibrillator to his heart. He was involved in the fun, too, with a sign that said "Mike Williams, Fantasy Team Trainer."
USU led 38-31 at halftime after being paced by eight points from Marcel and seven apiece from Medlin and Shaw. They managed their first lead at 11-8 more than six minutes into the contest with a three-pointer from swingman Spencer Butterfield.
A 7-0 run midway into the half, started with a Davis layup, provided the distance at intermission.
USU coach Stew Morrill after the contest sounded like he wanted a fantasy squad of his own. Though they shot 57 percent from the floor, the Aggies also committed 13 turnovers outside of the slim lead they hardly maintained more than four minutes into the second half.
"We're a long way from being a good WAC team. We definitely had some rust," Morrill said of a group that hadn't played since a Nov. 28 win at Santa Clara. A matchup with BYU this past Wednesday was postponed due to the Berger incident. "We have to become more of a team that wants to practice. You've heard me say that many times. This team's only got 10 practices until conference play and they need to make the most of them.
"It was great to have Danny in the building," he added. "When the actual game gets going, it boils down to trying to do what you need to do to be a good basketball team. We've got a long ways to go."