If BYU was looking for a statement win, it got it.
Brandon Averette, who was scoreless in the first half, hit a key 3-pointer and the Cougars forced a turnover to close out a game that BYU led for all but 24 seconds.
The Cougars took down No. 18 San Diego State 72-62 Friday on the road, for the first BYU win at Viejas Arena in nearly a decade (Feb. 26, 2011).
“This is a huge win for us,” Averette said. ”We say this every game, but coach was telling us this will be the hardest game of the year for us.”
• BYU hands No. 18 San Diego State first loss of the season, 72-62.
• Aztec Matt Mitchell scores game-high 35 points in defeat.
• Cougars hold Aztecs to 25% shooting from the field in the first half, 37% overall.
San Diego State, down by 15 points at the half, took the court with renewed vigor to start the second half, and Matt Mitchell single-handedly kept the Aztecs in the game, scoring a game-high 35 points. But it wasn’t enough.
The Cougars ended some of the Aztecs’ streaks; SDSU had four straight wins over BYU, 11 straight nonconference home-court wins and 17 straight nonconference regular-season wins (the longest streak in the nation).
“The [SDSU] team is full of great players, and that’s why they’re undefeated before this game and they might be undefeated after this game,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “They really performed at an epic level, but our guys responded at every turn. It’s super fun. I wish every BYU fan could have been in this gym because it was awesome.”
The Aztecs trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half and were still down 14 points with 5:20 left in the game, but cut it down to a two-point game at the under-3 mark thanks to some big, long shots from Mitchell. SDSU eventually squared the game at 61-all with less than two minutes left, but Matt Haarms was able to end an Aztec 14-0 run with a jumper to give BYU a 63-61 lead.
Averette was frustrated with the Aztecs run, which threatened the Cougar lead, but knew the team had to stay focused on each possession.
“I feel like we did a great job of that toward the end of the game,” Averette said. “We were expecting them to go on a run, just because they’re such a good team, and we knew they weren’t going to give up easily. I think we did a great job handling everything today.”
A year ago, those late-game 3-pointers, along with trouble on the boards, ultimately led BYU to fall to SDSU 76-71. The Cougars were able to respond this time.
BYU brought down 14 more rebounds than SDSU and outshot the Aztecs 46% to 37%.
Senior Alex Barcello led the Cougars with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and was backed up by Haarms and Averette, who scored 10 points each. Haarms was also responsible for a team-high eight rebounds.
The Cougars will return to Provo to host Texas Southern and Weber State on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
“Everybody that watches us knows that we’re just such a different team than we were last year, and it’s actually super fun and it’s super satisfying,” Pope said. “...I don’t think we’re poetry in motion on the court right now, but it’s beautiful ugly.”