After 20th win, Utah State still wonders what might have been
College basketball • After rash of injuries, Aggies are thankful to reach milestone.
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Logan • It doesn't feel like 20 wins, Stew Morrill said.

He knows the feeling as well as anyone. His is one of only six programs with 20-win seasons in the past 14 years. And given the amount of adversity Utah State has faced this year, he had every right to savor it.

But there seemed to be an itch for Morrill, that nagging feeling that he just couldn't scratch. It feels like a six-win season in some ways — those first 14 victories seem like a time long passed.

"It seemed like we played Texas State last season," he said. "We had a different team last December. I don't even know I can describe the year. I should write a short story about it. It might become a novel."

There was a different air in the locker room, among the players. After a season of losing high-profile players, one had finally come back. Spencer Butterfield, just by taking the floor, had injected new life into these beaten and bruised Aggies.

And that was before his 20 rebounds.

"It's nice seeing him on the floor for sure," Ben Clifford said. "He's one of those guys you'd go to war with. He's a great friend and a great competitor. It's good to have him back."

Even against the lowly Bobcats, Thursday's 77-61 win was worth celebrating. The first half was a clinic on defense, and the Aggies were as focused as they have been this year. Texas State was the opposite: confused, frustrated and even had arguing among its own bench.

A Utah State team that has been tested like not even Morrill has seen deserved a reason to feel uplifted. It was that feeling that Clifford projected after the win — that glow that victory brings, and even more so with a 20th victory.

"Last year it was a struggle to get to 20 wins, it felt like," Clifford said. "It feels good getting to 20. It would be nice to get more, but hopefully it gets us some momentum going into the WAC Tournament."

What he left out was how difficult it was to get to 20 this year. The third time was the charm after losses to Louisiana Tech and UT-Arlington.

What he left in was what continues to haunt the team: what could have been. If only they hadn't lost so many players. If only they had been healthy. If only, if only …

That was the feeling it seemed Morrill still was trying to subdue, even after he reached a milestone that seems to mean much more this year.

"Having him back makes me pine for the fact that it would be nice to have a couple more back and wonder what might have been," he said. "It's a good win. We've got 20 of them, and a lot of teams would like to have 20 wins. We'll see what we can do on Saturday."

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon