Dayton, Ohio • Maybe it was because President Barack Obama left the arena before the game started, but the Cougars’ start in their NCAA Tournament First Four game was worse than anybody dressed in blue could have imagined.
But boy, did they finish it well.
Recording the biggest comeback in tournament history, BYU beat Iona 78-72 after giving up 55 first-half points to the nation’s highest-scoring team.
And to think, Obama could have witnessed it, but called it a night after watching Western Kentucky stage a 16-point comeback with five minutes remaining to beat Mississippi Valley State.
“I started looking around and didn’t see him,” said BYU’s Hartsock, who had called the President “just another fan in the stands” on Monday. “I am sure he had some important things to do.”
Before some fans had returned from the their seats after witnessing that thrilling finish in the first game, BYU trailed fellow 14 seed Iona by double-digits.
They tried to run with the Gaels early, but it backfired in a big way. Iona built a 25-point lead so easily that it was almost comical.
The Cougars started out in man-to-man defense, then quickly went to a zone. Neither worked that well.
“When they got inside our zone, they kind of torched us,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Brock Zylstra started at two-guard in place of Anson Winder, who had started in BYU’s nine previous games, and made a big impact in the comeback with a big three-pointer and then made a big three-point play to seal the win. Hartsock also spurred the big comeback.
“Number 34 [Hartsock] was just shooting right over us,” said Iona’s Scott Machado. “His length was hard to guard.”
The Cougars crawled back in it, pounding the ball inside and going to their strengths in the second half. Brandon Davies missed two free throws on back-to-back bonus opportunities in the final four minutes, but redeemed himself with a pair of big free throws with 45 seconds remaining.
“What an exciting game,” Rose said. “The first 15 minutes was real fast-paced, and Iona was real good.”
BYU’s miserable start
• Iona made 13 of its first 17 shots
• The Cougars committed 13 turnovers in the first half
• BYU went nine straight possessions in the first half without scoring
• Ra’Shad James’ 3-point play with 14 minutes gone in the first half gave Iona a 49-24 lead