LOGAN — Cardell Butler never planned on an encore.

With Utah State residing in the national rankings and moving toward another top finish in the Big West Conference, the Aggie guard assumed his final game in the Spectrum was Feb. 21 when he scored a career-high 31 points in a rout of Cal State Fullerton.

Even as late as Sunday, Butler figured he'd close his collegiate career on the road — at an NCAA tournament venue. Then came USU's snub by the selection committee and an unexpected berth in the National Invitation Tournament.

Plans weren't the only thing to change.

On Wednesday, Butler and fellow seniors Mark Brown, Mike Ahmad and Chad Evans had their home finales altered. Hawaii's stunning 85-74 opening-round victory over the Aggies turned the storybook upside down.

"I'm kind of frustrated, but at the same time I'm happy because we had a good season. We were ranked for like six weeks," said Butler, who finished with 15 points.

The Aggies, however, ended a 25-4 campaign on an obviously sour note.

"I don't know what was wrong with our team," Butler added. "We couldn't get the job done."

Whatever the reason, he continued, it had nothing to do with not being in the NCAAs. The NIT, after all, is still postseason play.

"This where we need to have our energy up, and we didn't have it tonight," Butler said. "It was kind of weird, a little bit, just because we had never played at home this late in the season. It felt a little weird, but we still had our fans ."

In the end, though, it wasn't enough.

Hawaii shot 61.8 percent from the field.

"I'm frustrated with the way we played tonight," Butler said after leading the senior scoring contingent.

Brown and Ahmad each scored 11 points in their final games for USU, while Evans did not play.

HAPPY HOMECOMING: Ogden High product Jeff Blackett had a stellar night for Hawaii. The 6-foot-8 junior came off the bench to score 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor.

"Jeff Blackett came hard and had half the fans here from down the road in Ogden," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "It's great to see a kid come home and get 18 points."

STREAKS AND STUFF The 11-point setback was USU's largest at home in 92 games under Stew Morrill. The Aggies, who are now 84-8 in Logan during his tenure, entered the game with a 17-game home-court winning streak—the eighth longest active run in the nation. On the flip side of things, USU has lost four straight NIT games at home.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com