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BYU shakes off slow start to beat New Orleans 86-61

(Photo courtesy of BYU) BYU senior guard Alex Barcello, shown during Wednesday's game against Westminster, led the Cougars with 19 points in a win over New Orleans of Thursday night.

After the season opener the previous night, many questioned: Can BYU shoot that well?

Well, yes, but not always.

On Thursday at the Marriott Center, the Cougars struggled early to sink shots, but were able to recover and put up a solid second half to beat New Orleans 86-61.

BYU coach Mark Pope knew this game wouldn’t come as easy as Wednesday’s, calling the matchup against the Privateers a “street fight.”

“I thought the guys did a really nice job just managing it,” Pope said. “They just managed it, kind of kept focus, kept locked in the best they could and I’m super proud of them.”

In the season opener against Westminster on Wednesday, the Cougars led by as many as 55 points, won by 49, and made 18 3-pointers — tying a school record. A day later, BYU missed its first four attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 3 of 7 from the field in the first five minutes of the game.

But the Cougars continued grinding it out on the field and shots eventually started falling.

BYU finished the game having shot 51.5% from the field. Senior Alex Barcello provided stability to a struggling BYU offense, scoring a team-high 19 points on 60% shooting from the field (3 of 4 from the 3-point line). Barcello also added seven rebounds, four assists and a steal.

The Cougars also received solid performances off the bench, which scored 30 points.

Big man Richard Harward posted his first double-double in a BYU uniform with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Trevin Knell scored eight points on 3 of 3 shooting (2 of 2 from the 3-point line).

However, where the Cougars struggled the most was from the charity line. BYU shot 38.1% from the free-throw line, but of the eight made shots, only three were made in the first half.

“I was actually really, really pleased that we got to the free throw line,” Pope said. “We had 21 free-throw attempts, which is actually a pretty good number for us. ... I think we’ll continue to get better just with reps and cover the line, but I did like the way we approached the free-throw state.”

While the Cougars struggled at the free-throw line, they were dominant off the glass, particularly with offensive rebounds. BYU outrebounded New Orleans 54-28, and 18-6 on offensive rebounds.

Growing up, junior Connor Harding was taught by his father that winning the rebound battle will win the game. Pope has the same mentality and had his team work on that throughout the offseason.

It seems it’s paid off.

“If you can double a team up in rebounding and get more shot opportunities, get more looks at the basket — you’re going to win the basketball game,” “So, Richard, Caleb [Lohner], Gideon [George], all those guys going to the glass and getting boards, that’s what won us the game to be honest.”

The Cougars will have one day off before playing their third game in four days. This time, BYU welcomes Utah Valley at the Marriott Center.

It will be the first time since Pope joined the BYU coaching staff that he will face his former team. And he’s expecting a good game from the Wolverines.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Pope said. “Every single one of these in-state games, every single one, is just going to be a [battle]. It’s why they’re great, it’s because you can roll the dice and guess who’s going to win, because it’s going to be an all-out battle.”

Storylines

• BYU beats New Orleans 86-61, improves to 2-0.

• Senior Alex Barcello scores team-high 19 points; junior Richard Harward post double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

• The Cougars host Utah Valley Saturday for third game in four days.

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