Provo • After a somewhat sloppy start and down 7-3, BYU’s Alex Barcello spiked the ball on Cal State Fullerton for a block. His cheers were masked by the fans’ screams throughout Marriott Center.
The Cougars followed up with a 3-pointer by Connor Harding, who then got the next defensive rebound. Barcello took off on a fast break and hit a 3 to give the Cougars the lead — one they would not relinquish.
Barcello said that block definitely served as a momentum booster for him and the team.
“Our biggest thing in scout was transition, getting back in transition, and that kind of got us rolling,” Barcello said. “Just knowing that what we went over and worked so hard for, it was paying off and it was working. I think that’s what got us the win.”
The Titans tried to fight back, tying it 9-9, but BYU started to pull away and eventually put the game away 76-58 in Tuesday’s season opener.
The win was not only the first win of the season, but Mark Pope’s first win as BYU’s head coach.
“I’m really happy,” Pope said.
While fans may have looked to TJ Haws and Jake Toolson to be the team’s leading scorers and start putting points up on the board right away, Harding and Barcello were the ones to break out in the first half. The pair both went 3 for 4 from the arc to help the Cougars to a 38-24 lead at the half.
Haws managed only two points, while Toolson went scoreless in the first half.
However, they weren’t struggling alone.
The Cougars gave up 10 turnovers and were only shooting 27% in 2-pointers, but were helped by 8 of 15 shooting from the arc. Through it all, BYU managed to close out the first half with 12 unanswered points.
“[If] we keep teams under 30 points, we’re feeling really good about our defensive effort,” Pope said.
BYU started the second half with a more well-rounded performance. By the end of the game, the Cougars had 10 players score and shot 49% from the field and 46% from the arc.
Barcello and Haws finished with 17 points each. Harding fell just shy of posting a double-double, with 11 points and eight rebounds. Toolson recovered and finished with seven points.
Haws contributed his low-scoring first half to it not feeling right, but tried to stay aggressive throughout.
“In the second half, I got a few better looks, got to the basket a little bit, which got me in a little bit of a rhythm,” Haws said. “So, I wasn’t too worried about it in the first half, but just trying to stay aggressive.”
Tuesday’s game also marked the first of nine games Yoeli Childs will sit out due to a NCAA suspension and saw the return of Zac Seljaas, who had been sidelined with a broken foot and surgery since the team’s trip to Italy.
Having Seljaas out on the court also served as a momentum booster for the Cougars.
“I think it was awesome,” Barcello said of having Zeljaas back. “I mean, I know how hard Zac has worked every single day, even when he was hurt. Nothing stopped him from working every single day.”
The Cougars next host San Diego State, Saturday at 2 p.m.
With Childs still unavailable, Zeljaas not at 100% and other medical issues, Pope said the team is still figuring out its offense. But while some people may look at a thin roster without one of its best players and think they don’t have what it takes to be successful, Pope sees the opposite.
And the breakout performance by Barcello and Harding back it up.
“We’re going to grow every day and by the time we get to the end of the season — I know we’ll have some pitfalls and setbacks, but by the time we get to the end of this year, we’re going to be very good and nobody is going to want to play us,” Pope said. “They’re not going to want to play us by the end of the season because these guys are committed to getting better every single day.”
- BYU opens 2019-20 season with win over Cal State Fullerton, 76-58.
- Cougars led by TJ Haws and Alex Barcello, with 17 points each.
- Zac Seljaas comes back from foot injury and surgery, puts up six points ad nabs eight rebounds.