With just under eight minutes remaining on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, things were looking good for the BYU Cougars. Matt Carlino had just made his second 3-pointer of the second half to tie the Baylor Bears 52-52 and the Cougars' zone defense was working well.
Or so it seemed.
About 15 seconds later, Baylor forward Cory Jefferson broke free under the basket, and dunked the basketball while being fouled by Brandon Davies. Jefferson completed the 3-point play and the Cougars' second-leading scorer and best inside presence headed to the bench with his fourth foul.
The Cougars would not get closer than three points the rest of the way, and that was that. It was their 12th loss of the season -- against 24 wins.
After Carlino's 3-pointer, the Cougars went more than five minutes without a field goal -- the scoring drought they feared. By the time Tyler Haws hit a jumper with 2:28 remaining, Baylor had built a 66-55 lead.
"We hit a little scoring drought there in the second half where they got a little lead and we weren't able to come back from that," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Cougars were competitive -- much more so than last December in Waco when they lost 79-64 -- but some incredible 3-point shooting in the final two minutes by Carlino made the final score, 76-70, a bit deceiving. Somebody asked Tyler Haws in the postgame news conference if the Cougars wanted Carlino to keep shooting until the ball started going in.
"Yeah, Matt is a guy that has a shooter's mentality and when he misses one it doesn't bother him," Haws said. "He's got a lot of confidence in himself, and he was able to, I think, get it down to a one-possession game when we were trying to claw our way back from a 10-point deficit. So he's got that shooter's mentality."
As mentioned in the game story, Baylor guard Pierre Jackson took over when the outcome was in question, and was clearly the best player on the floor in the final 10 minutes. Still, he said it wasn't easy putting BYU away.
"You know, they've got some great players on their team, some great shooters," he said. "As you saw at the end, Carlino caught fire a little bit. But we stuck to the game plan and executed well."
Cory Jefferson said the tide turned for good when Davies went to the bench with his fourth foul. Rose put Davies back into the game a few minutes later after three-straight empty possessions, but the damage was done.
"We wanted to mainly limit his touches in the post," Jefferson said. "We know he's a great player, and he has -- he's a multi-move guy, and our main goal was just to limit his touches and make him go the ways that we wanted him to go."
Having handled BYU easily more than three months ago, Baylor coach Scott Drew said he planned on seeing an improved team, and he got it.
"Haws has always been good all year long, Davies has been good," Drew said. "But I thought everybody else picked up their game, which made them, especially during this NIT, watching them on film, when everybody is shooting 45, 47 percent from 3-point range and then you've got Haws scoring 29 a game at 54 percent, it is hard because you've got to pick your poison, and we were blessed inside to make it tough on Davies.
"He's a great player, but he didn't have 27 and 16 [rebounds] like he did the last time we played or whatever it was, which was huge."
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