Los Angeles • Three games into their inaugural basketball season in the West Coast Conference, one thing has become abundantly clear to the BYU Cougars, whether they are playing in packed arenas or half-filled gymnasiums.
Nothing is going to come as easy as many Cougar boosters believed in the WCC especially on the road.
The Cougars picked up their first road win in the league here on Thursday, but only after holding off a desperate and effective last-minute rally from the home team. Anson Winder and Matt Carlino made clutch free throws in the final minute, and BYU escaped Gersten Pavilion with a 73-65 win over Loyola Marymount in front of an evenly mixed crowd of BYU and LMU supporters because LMU students are still away for the holiday break.
Attendance was 3,073, the second-smallest crowd to watch the Cougars play this season behind only the neutral-site game in Chicago against Wisconsin. But the road is the road, and the win was just as hard to get as any at Wyoming, Air Force or Colorado State, BYU senior Noah Hartsock said after rescuing the Cougars in the second half with 17 of his team-high 21 points coming after halftime.
"I told all the guys in there that it was a great team win," said BYU coach Dave Rose outside the locker room after LMU had steamed back from a 13-point deficit with two minutes, 41 seconds remaining to get within two with 52 seconds left.
"Obviously, when we evaluate the whole thing, some guys played better than others. But every one of these guys should walk out of here with a really good feeling about the potential of this team," Rose said. "The first one [on the road] is hard to get. â¦ We feel a lot better today than we did last week" when the Cougars were blown out at St. Mary's, 98-82.
At 2-1 in league play, 13-4 overall, the Cougars will be back in action Saturday in the Marriott Center against San Francisco. LMU dropped to 1-1 in the WCC, 8-7 overall, but walked away knowing another upset was within reach after having stunned ranked clubs UCLA and St. Louis earlier this season.
The Lions led 29-21 in the first half before Rose cranked up the zone defense and Matt Carlino finally made a three-pointer (he missed his first six trey attempts) to create a halftime tie.
The Cougars talked about going to their leading scorer, Hartsock, in the second half, and he delivered in a big way. The senior was 9 of 12 from the field.
"His length can get him a shot," Rose said. "If we can get him the ball, in crucial times our guys have confidence in him," Rose said. "
With Carlino struggling to find his shot he finished 2 of 9 from the field Rose turned to backup point guard Craig Cusick to run the show for long stretches of the second half. Cusick's back-to-back treys about four minutes into the second half gave BYU a 44-39 lead, and LMU never regained the advantage.
"Away games, some times it is lot harder to get going as a team," Cusick said. "They second half was a lot better [offensively] than the first half. I was fortunate to get open shots. They had to double-down on our big guys â¦ and I was fortunate to make a few shots tonight."
Storylines BYU 73, Loyola Marymount 65
R In Short • Loyola Marymount makes BYU's win difficult to the very end.
Key Stat • Host LMU makes just 5 of 26 3-point tries