BYU men’s basketball has some skin in the game in win over Texas Southern
Brandon Averette scores career-high 30 points in Cougars’ 87-71 victory.
BYU players celebrate a three-point basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
The steal was worth a floor burn for 6-foot-9 BYU forward Kolby Lee.
With the opportunity to grapple the ball away from a Texas Southern guard on the Tigers’ end of Marriott Center court, Lee slid his lanky frame onto the floor. Then, having rubbed the skin from his knees, he fed the ball to teammate Alex Barcello, who fancy stepped his way to the basket and a layup.
Was it a game-changing play? Not exactly. The Cougars hadn’t trailed all game and were well on their way to an 87-71 victory Monday night. It was, however, indicative of how the Cougars aren’t letting any opportunity pass them by.
Monday’s game vs. TSU could have easily been a trap game for the Cougars (8-2). Not only were they facing an undersized opponent in the Tigers (2-5), but they were doing so just three days after winning their biggest game so far this season over then No. 18 San Diego State.
But they weren’t going to take the bait.
“We were stressing this game probably more than we were San Diego State,” said guard Brandon Averette, whose career-high 30 points led all scorers. “Those big-time, top 25-ranked games, you know we’re all going to show up for those games. These kind of lower-level games, teams tend to overlook these games and you might slip up. So coach [Mark Pope] kept reminding us that this was going to be the hardest game of the year for us. And I think we took on that mentality and went out there and handled our business.”
BYU charged into the game, opening with a 6-0 run. They it built on it with a streak within a streak. As a team, the Cougars sank seven straight shots in five minutes, four straight of which were 3-pointers split between Barcello and 6-6 junior Connor Harding. By the end of that run, BYU was shooting 77 percent (10 of 13) from the field.
But all good things must come to an end.
The Cougars went nearly quiet for the next eight minutes, making just two shots during that stretch. They were also outrebounded and outshot by the Tigers, who closed to within 10, 42-32, at the half to retain hope of a comeback.
When the Cougars came back, however, they didn’t fret or force shots. They simply turned to good, old-fashioned hustle.
“We kind of go through these cycles, right, where we get up and then we kind of just coast or we just feel like we can kind of like ride it out until the end of the game,” said 6-11 center Richard Harward, who finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. “And coach, kind of went at us during halftime and was like, ‘We’re not letting up. We got to keep pushing.’”
The play by Lee, which took place two minutes into the second half was just one example. Right before that, the Cougars exhibited an extra effort on the boards. They hit them hard enough to get three shots at the basket and, eventually, an and-one layup by Averette. Right afterward, 7-3 senior center Matt Haarms saved a wayward TSU pass from going out of bounds. After he sprinted to the other end, Harding rewarded him with a pass in the paint that Haarms sealed with a left hook.
Haarms finished with 16 points and Barcello added 10 along with 10 assists. As a team, BYU out-assisted the Tigers 26-10.
The Cougars will try to keep their momentum going for one more game before the Christmas break and the start of conference play. They will face Weber State on Wednesday at Vivint Arena at 5 p.m. A win will give them a near state sweep. They have beaten every in-state team they’ve faced, including Utah, Utah State and Westminster College.
“We’ve got to find a way to win,” Pope said. “That’s what we’re thinking about.”