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Logan • Danny Berger sat on the very end of the bench in jeans and a varsity jacket, cheering as his teammates played without him.
The junior forward didn't play the game, but the entire arena felt his presence deeply. And in a 86-57 win over Western Oregon (6-3) that featured a dominant second-half effort by the Utah State basketball team, the biggest victory for the Aggies (5-1) was having their teammate return after a close brush with death earlier this week.
"When you see a guy go down like that in practice, it's really scary," junior guard Preston Medlin said. "Then to come back for him to be with us tonight was great for us, and I was glad to see him out there."
A crowd of 8,533 celebrated Berger's return to Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday night, only four days after he had collapsed in practice and needed to be shocked with a defibrillator by the team training staff.
Released from the hospital with a new defibrillator in his chest, Berger soaked up love from fans who brought adoring signs and chanted cheers with his name. "Welcome home," one sign said from a row of students. "Danny Berger, you stop MY heart," read another.
He then got a tribute from his teammates and coaches, in the form of patches bearing his number, No. 12, on their jerseys and suits. And although the Aggies struggled in a first-half scuffle with the Division II Wolves, they eventually delivered a victory they could celebrate with Berger as well.
The team had witnessed Berger's episode at the Tuesday afternoon practice, and they acknowledge it weighed heavily on their minds.
"All I could think about was Danny the whole time I was warming up," said Spencer Butterfield, the junior guard who started in Berger's stead. "I just wanted to play the best I could for him. I wasn't even thinking about starting, really."
Those emotions, combined with working out some sluggishness from 10 days since their last competition, likely contributed to the Aggies' slow start. With only 15 minutes left, the Wolves had pulled within two points after collecting plenty of Utah State turnovers and staying hot from 3-point range.
But the Aggies got surprising leadership from freshman point guard Marcel Davis, who broke out with a 21-point effort on 9-of-11 shooting. He took advantage of help defense on Medlin, taking wide-open 3-pointers but also driving past stone-footed defenders for layups.
Medlin was also one of the key contributors during Utah State's 14-2 run. The junior poured in 18 points on his hot streak, galvanizing the team and pushing up the lead to as much as 30 points.
The switch for Utah State in the final 15 minutes was stark, and Western Oregon was all but helpless to stop the onslaught. The Aggies rebounded at will, gaining a 43-21 advantage on the boards while also racking up 23 assists. Jarred Shaw, Kyisean Reed and Butterfield each scored in double digits, as well.
Still, coach Stew Morrill remarked that he felt the game illustrated that Berger should be in the lineup instead of on the sideline. When the 22-year-old gets his sling off from surgery in three weeks, team doctors will evaluate if he can play.
"My comment to him was, 'We need to get you back as soon as possible, obviously,' " Morrill said. "But first and foremost, can he play again. Let's do things slowly and make sure everything's OK before we even make that a consideration."
Storylines Aggies 86, Wolves 57
R Freshman Marcel Davis leads the Aggies with 21 points.
• Danny Berger attends the game after being released from the hospital.
BYU-USU game rescheduled
Utah State and Brigham Young have found a suitable date to play the men's basketball game that was postponed Wednesday after USU player Danny Berger was hospitalized the previous night with a serious medical condition.
The Aggies and Cougars will meet Feb. 19 at the Marriott Center in Provo. The 7 p.m. game will be broadcast live on BYUtv.