LOGAN — With four minutes remaining and Utah State preparing to rebound what would be a missed Texas State free throw, Spencer Butterfield waved Jordan Stone to the opposite end of the block and Marcel Davis to a different strategic location of the backcourt. He even applied two hands to a referee’s back to direct him where Butterfield could better retrieve a free throw. Butterfield carried himself as though he had played on the Smith Spectrum floor all week.
He actually didn’t, though, only playing between the floor’s new bull logos on Wednesday. But after a 10-point, seven-assist, 20-rebound evening (he had 12 boards by halftime), the 6-foot-3 junior college transfer probably fooled many.
Given that the firecracker nature he displayed all year was in full force again Thursday night, his comments on returning to action didn’t.
No USU guard is believed to have tallied that many rebounds in its history.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said after his team’s 77-61 win over Texas State. “I just wanted to provide energy to the team.”
With a block and a steal to boot, Butterfield did just that — “I was glad we got a deflections,” he said. Though his team committed 19 turnovers, the Bobcats had just as many. He exited to some of the loudest cheers of the night with 3:34 remaining, probably out of recognition that he had yet again been the spark plug that charged his Aggies (20-9, 10-7 WAC) past the Bobcats (9-21, 4-13). As awful as the San Marcos-based team is, USU coach Stew Morrill attested that the former Yuba (Calif.) Community College star had made the primary difference in helping USU overcome a 0-2 road trip last week mostly without the team’s top scorer after the loss of stars Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed earlier this season.
Already with a cyst on his sciatic nerve, Butterfield had injured his hip in the second half of a Feb. 28 blowout loss at Louisiana Tech and missed the Aggies’ 15-point defeat at UT-Arlington two days later.
Butterfield’s eye-popping line, however, made Morrill more ruminative on other injured players than complementary of the one who has been able to return.
“It makes me pine for how we would be if we had more back — what would have been,” said Morrill, in reference to forward Kyisean Reed, who underwent season-ending surgery after tearing an ACL, and guard Preston Medlin, whose fractured right wrist makes him questionable for next week’s WAC tournament. “But we have 20 wins. A lot of teams would like to have 20.”
With that mark, USU joins just six teams in the nation to win 20-plus games for 14 straight seasons.
Last week, Morrill hadn’t expected Butterfield return this season after seeing his visible pain in the loss in Ruston, La., when Morrill criticized his team for “going through the motions.” He followed that on Saturday with a “tirade” he said he only levies perhaps twice per season, and less as he’s aged.
“I don’t think they would expect anything less than me,” he said. “They don’t want me to accept that they’re a 46-point, 30-percent team. The guys that played in that game wouldn’t want me to say ‘Oh, that’s OK, we’ve got some guys hurt and you guys can’t make baskets.’ ”
His team improved with a 41 percent shooting effort Thursday night — including a 5-of-20 display from distance. The Aggies also limited the Bobcats to 34 percent shooting, including a paltry 4-of-23 (17 percent) in the first half, when USU zipped to a 34-15 lead.
As shining as the Aggies’ star proved to be, Texas State’s wasn’t. Bobcat forward Joel Wright, who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game entering the contest, scored just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting while committing three turnovers.
So just how sure was Butterfield expecting he would play?
“100 percent,” he said without hesitation. “I told Coach I was playing, no matter what.”
USU faces UT-San Antonio in their home finale Saturday at 7 p.m. Reed will be honored as part of Senior Night.