USC routs slow-starting BYU basketball 79-53 in Roman Legends Classic opener

BYU's Matt Haarms, top left, and Southern California's Evan Mobley, top right, fight for a rebound in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Last week, it became evident that BYU tends to start basketball games a bit slow before eventually finding its rhythm and shifting into cruise mode. But on Tuesday, the Cougars never got into the swing of things.

Instead, BYU fell to USC 79-53 at the Roman Legends Classic in Uncasville, Conn.

The loss is the first real surprising blowout loss of the Mark Pope era. And the second-year coach called the loss “disappointing.”

“It’s not just a loss, it’s a real gut check and a reality check — and a real chance to see who we are,” Pope said during the Cougars’ Postgame Coaching Show, which he joined via Zoom. “That’s never an acceptable outcome.”

Pope went on to say that the team will have to do some soul searching Tuesday night to figure out who they are.

USC 79, BYU 53

BYU falls to 3-1 on the season after “disappointing” loss to USC, 79-53.

USC holds Cougars to 27.5% shooting from the field and 23.3% from beyond the arc.

BYU to play second game of Roman Legends Classic Wednesday against St. John’s.

While the game stayed close throughout much of the first half, the Trojans pulled away in the final minutes on a 14-2 run to lead 31-20 at halftime. BYU missed 18 of its final 19 shots and closed out the half on a nearly-five minute scoring drought.

In fact, the Cougars were shooting less than 25% from the field (the lowest single game FG% since shooting 25.4% against Arizona State on Dec. 2, 2000) and less than 15% from beyond the arc, along with being outrebounded 27-20.

It was a stark contrast from a team known for its perimeter game.

“I know USC is a good team and they have length,” Pope said. “We didn’t feel right from the get-go. We were a little stagnant. We just couldn’t get ourselves to go. That is just incredibly disappointing, so we’ll figure it out.”

At the start of the second half, the Trojans continued their dominance. USC opened with an 18-5 run to continue to run away with the game.

Down by 30 points with two minutes left in the game, Pope put in the team’s reserves to close out the contest.

BYU’s Alex Barcello, who had been leading the Cougars through the first three games with a 21.3 scoring average, was essentially shut down by USC’s defense. The senior ended with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, and added four rebounds and four assists.

Transfers Matt Haarms, who got his first BYU start, and Gideon George led the Cougars with 11 points each. Haarms also added six rebounds and three blocks. George finished with six rebounds and one assist.

Pope liked what he saw from George, and how he continued competing, but wouldn’t really consider the junior forward’s performance a bright spot. In fact, Pope said there were no bright spots from Tuesday’s performance.

“When you take a shellacking like that with the irrelevant amount of fight that we got to put in that game, it’s really awful,” Pope said. “And it’s on me. It’s 100% on me.”

Four Trojans scored in double digits. Drew Peterson led the team with 19 points, while Evan Mobley added 17 points, Tahj Eaddy scored 16 and Isaiah Mobley finished with 11.

The Cougars will have a very short turnaround to put this game behind them. BYU will play its second game of the Roman Legends Classic Wednesday against St. John’s at 3 p.m. MST.

Pope said the team will take the next few hours after the game to process the loss, and acknowledge the performance, but will learn from it.

“Then, what we have to do, is we have to get constructive, and that transition is really hard,” Pope said. “It’s the key of life — it’s how you respond to the game. So we’ll get constructive and we’ll fix it. There’s no way we’re walking on the floor like this tomorrow. There’s no way. It won’t happen.”

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