Logan • If the revival isn’t complete, it’s certainly near completion. It’s what Craig Smith set out to do when he was hired less than a year ago, to convince Cache Valley that there is a reason to return to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and to transform it back into what it was for decades: an ear-piercing, headache-inducing, student-section swarming sort of event. And above all, a place where the Utah State Aggies could not only win, but also prove that important games were soon on the horizon.
All it took was less than a full season. They’re back. And it’s back, the program catchphrase under the first-year coach, now a program hashtag, the #SpectrumMagic. Students camped out for days in the freezing temperatures for a shot at getting in and finding a prime seat. Just like the old days. The Hurd was its old self, too, a cast of characters designed to scream until their voices could no longer be heard and to do their absolute best to distract the opponent, even just for a split-second.
So on Saturday night against No. 12-ranked Nevada, with first place in the Mountain West Conference on the line in Logan, the Spectrum returned to where Smith so desperately wanted it to get. Heck, even before tipoff, Smith made a bee-line toward legendary head coach Stew Morrill, seated on press row, and thanked him for coming.
The Aggies, already enjoying their best season ever in the MWC and most wins since the 2010-11 season, defended their home floor against a Wolf Pack team filled with NBA prospects, that had only lost two games all year and was a sexy preseason pick to be a Final Four finalist. The Aggies beat Nevada 81-76 Saturday night to improve to 24-6 and are now 14-3, alone in first place in the MWC.
Smith dubbed it a heavyweight-style fight. In front of 10,387 fans, the seventh-largest crowd in USU basketball history, the Aggies seized a moment that, before the season started, wasn’t considered to ever be in the cards.
That is, to everyone beyond shouting distance from Smith and his group.
“To get to where we are after the last couple of years, which were really tough, and to see the Spectrum full like that again for the first time in a while,” Sam Merrill said, his voice tailing off, “but we’re not there yet.”
Yet here they are, having topped one of the best teams in college basketball behind their star junior guard Merrill (game-high 29 points), freshman center sensation Neemias Queta (13 points, 11 rebounds) and a band of weekly heroes who, when asked by Smith and the staff to step into the spotlight and enjoy it, they do so willingly.
On Saturday, just one of them was Diogo Brito, who had 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench in a foul-fest, playing an integral role in stemming a late Nevada run that, after USU was up by as many as 13 points, whittled the lead down to three with less than a minute remaining.
The Aggies were cool at the line, and that was that.
It was Brito, who with seconds left, joined in with the crowd in the final chant sending off the frustrated Wolf Pack. Then, in a flash, the crowd spilled out onto the court. And there, in a flash, was that magic Smith’s yearned for.
“I don’t know what’s the feeling of passing out, but I was very close,” said Brito. “There was nowhere for me to breathe.”
Smith had a prime view. After completing his postgame national TV interview, the fans on the court hoisted their head coach into the air and let him get his crowd surf on while the entire place belted out "Sweet Caroline” in unison.
"It’s always impossible,” said Smith, “until you make it possible.”