LOGAN -- Another close game at the World Vision Basketball Challenge went Utah State's way -- but often against UC Davis, the Aggies seemed as stuck as the ball was between the possession shot clock and the west backboard with eight minutes left in the contest.
At that point, USU led UCD -- also nicknamed the Aggies -- with their largest advantage of the game at 64-52. It hardly expanded from there, however. Despite a mix of scrappy play from the opponent and lack of organization of its own, USU (8-1) withstood UCD (3-7) 73-61.
Coach Stew Morrill acknowledged it wouldn't have been possible, however, without Preston Medlin.
After scoring just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half, the junior guard netted 16 after halftime, combining a trio of 3-pointers from all spots beyond the arc with off-balance floaters that, unlike USU's Nov. 15 home loss against St. Mary's, fell each time for him. He was 6-of-8 from the field in the second half and hit four 3-pointers.
As a result, the Aggies won their fifth consecutive game in the Spectrum -- perhaps emerging from a home slump, considering they had lost five of 10 games in Logan going back to the Spectrum after having previously won 33 straight in the arena.
"It helps when we hit 3s. We do have some good shooters," Morrill said. Then alluding to Medlin's jaunt: "Our best teams here have been when we have balance. We're not to that point yet, but it's a solid win for us."
The winningest coach in school history made sure to decry his team's inconsistency again against UCD, a recurring theme less than two months into Morrill's 14th season at the helm.
"They probably saw our big guys from last night (starting big men Jarred Shaw and Kyisean Reed combined for 39 points and 24 rebounds Thursday against Nicholls State), so they did a really good job on them," Morrill said. "But our backup posts also shot a bad percentage. So we will be a good basketball team when we have many players carry us at different times."
Shaw and Reed Friday night combined for 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
The crowd wasn't streamlined, either. "Wild Matt," the superfan replacement of the popular "Wild Bill" Sproat, did not emulate his predecessor this time with an out-of-the-ordinary costume during the second half.
It further subdued a quieter-than-normal crowd exemplified by just perhaps a dozen-and-a-half of the typical crazed fans occupying section F, the most-notorious, eastern side of the USU student section.
Regardless, USU is 8-1 to start a season for the first time in four seasons, when that team began 24-1.
With two falling floaters and a crowded 3-pointer midway through the second half that resembled his NBA-playing father Hersey Hawkins, UCD's Corey Hawkins helped keep it close. But it hardly brought the cheer from the UCD bench heard in the first half, when they built their lead as large as seven at 22-15 with 10:27 before halftime.
The 15-0 run was finished by an undefended, top-of-the-key 3-pointer from junior guard Tyler Les, whose father Jim is the UCD coach and former Utah Jazzman.
That bucket brought the loudest reception from the easternmost bench -- consummated by a shoot-the-bow-and-arrow impersonation from the son of the former NBA sharpshooter.
The dagger wasn't close to Medlin's or those of Spencer Butterfield, whose 4-of-6 effort from distance included two consecutive makes that ended UCD's streak.
Benched on Saturday in favor of new starter Marcel Davis, point guard TeNale Roland then added two straight bombs that, sandwiched with a Medlin teardrop, tied the game at 26 with 7:52 left. USU never again trailed, though UCD drew within eight with 3:40 remaining.
Butterfield registered his fourth straight start in place of Danny Berger, who on Dec. 4 suffered cardiac arrest.
"He's learning some things that you get frustrated about, but he plays really hard," Morrill said of the junior from Loomis, Calif. "You can count on him making a big shot and him playing tough.
"And that's good stuff."
So was a certain star that became bright in time.