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BYU bounces back quickly, tops St. John’s 74-68 at the Roman Legends Classic

St. John's Dylan Addae-Wusu, left, and BYU's Alex Barcello fight for the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

The Cougars couldn’t afford to lose two in a row. So, they didn’t.

BYU closed out the Roman Legends Classic with a hard-fought 74-68 win over St. John’s on Wednesday in Uncasville, Connecticut. The victory improves the Cougars’ record to 4-1.

Originally, the Cougars were set to play Vanderbilt on Thursday, but COVID-19 issues forced the change of opponent and date. The quicker turnaround may have benefitted BYU. Instead of having another day to feel the burn from Tuesday’s disappointing 79-53 loss to USC, the Cougars had to immediately shift focus to a new opponent.

BYU coach Mark Pope said he was “unbelievably proud” of his team.

“After a really brutal night, with a really, really short turnaround, a lot of soul searching and a lot of questioning and some doubt and whatever, the guys did the only thing that you can and they responded,” Pope said.

The shots still continued to be hard to come by early in the game, but not just from BYU. St. John’s (3-1) also struggled. Midway through the first half, the Cougars were shooting 33% and the Red Storm 38%.

But then baskets started to fall, along with some key 3s for BYU.

By the end of the game, BYU outshot St. John’s 45% to 40.6%. In the second half, the Cougars made 55.6% of their shots and 54.5% from behind the arc.

After leading 12-9 early in the game, the Red Storm never led again. They came close, though, tying the score at 43-43 in the second half, but then BYU freshman Caleb Lohner drove in for a layup to maintain the Cougar lead.

“We got down to six points at halftime, but we came out with the right energy, right mindset and went back and forth,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “But they held their poise — give them credit. They made some big shots.”

The score was within a basket multiple times throughout the remainder of the game, but BYU was able to close out the game. Gideon George was a key part of that, bringing down some all-too-important rebounds in the final 30 seconds of the game to give the Cougars possession.

What also helped the Cougars was the fact that five separate players scored in the double figures.

Senior Alex Barcello, who a day prior was held to eight points, scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, and added three rebounds and five assists. George recorded his first double-double as a Cougar with 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Graduate transfer Brandon Averrette added 12 points and Connor Harding and Trevin Knell each scored 11 points.

“I just I couldn’t be more proud of these guys in terms of their focus, their ability to kind of like pull themselves together and come compete against a terrific St. John’s team that just kind of ran Boston College out of the gym two nights ago,” Pope said.

The Cougars have two days off before playing at Utah State for the third in-state opponent this season.

However, the Aggies will be without Craig Smith — the head coach tested positive for COVID-19. Pope said the Cougars will still be ready should the game remain on the schedule.

“They’re a really, really good team, really talented team, so I’m sure they’ll perform great if all that moves forward,” Pope said.

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