BYU big men prove they can be relied upon in men’s basketball’s fifth straight win

Cougars beat Texas Southern 81-64 behind strong play from Gavin Baxter, Gideon George and Fousseyni Traore.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) congratulates Brigham Young forward Fousseyni Traore (45), after hitting making a big shot for the Cougars in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Texas Southern Tigers at the Marriott Center, in Provo, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.

Provo • They caught lobs. They converting put-back dunks. They blocked shots.

In a game where practically every guard other than Te’jon Lucas struggled for the BYU men’s basketball team, Wednesday night’s 81-64 win over the Texas Southern Tigers belonged to the big men.

Seniors Gavin Baxter and Gideon George, and freshman Fousseyni Traore combined for 34 points and 26 rebounds in the win, which sent the No. 18 Cougars to 5-0 on the season.

“Those guys are special,” said Lucas, who finished with 18 points and seven assists. “I can’t give them enough credit. We don’t give it to them a lot in the post as we should, so we’re trying to find different ways for them to score. But those guys always do a great job and they’re part of the heart and soul of our team.”

George pulled out all the stops on the glass, collecting a career-high 16 rebounds and adding 10 points. Traore returned from injury and went 5 for 7 from the field, scored 13 points and added six rebounds and two blocks.

Traore caught the ball at the top of the 3-point arc midway through the second half. He paused for a second, thought about his options, then looked at the basket. Right then and there, he made a decision to let it fly.

And down it went, met immediately with the roar of the Marriott Center crowd.

“We have confidence in all our guys shooting,” Lucas said. “And then he was open and he hit it. We expect nothing less but for him to shoot the ball. We’re just happy that he shot it and made it.”

Traore’s 3-pointer was uncharacteristic of the 6-foot-6, 254-pound forward, who played 18 minutes on Wednesday. He participated in Tuesday’s practice, but on a minutes restriction.

“I was hoping for 12,” Cougars coach Mark Pope said when asked about Traore’s minutes against Texas Southern. “But we just were just in foul trouble up and down the line the first half.”

Pope said Traore responded well to the minutes, but will be watching how the former Wasatch Academy player feels in the morning.

“I’m hopeful that he’ll be good to go for some amount of minutes on Saturday,” Pope said. “We need him. He’s important to this team.”

Baxter gave the Cougars 11 points and four rebounds, but played only 15 minutes due to foul trouble. Sophomore Caleb Lohner didn’t score, but three of his five rebounds were on the offensive end.

Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki are freshmen who both started Wednesday’s game. Baxter has suffered two serious injuries throughout his tenure at BYU. So in terms of experience, there isn’t much there among some of the team’s main big men.

Pope acknowledged that Lucas and Alex Barcello make the lives of their big men easier because they’re not yet at the point where the ball can just go to them down low for them to make plays on their own. But he has liked the progression of his post players so far this season.

“I think those guys are making huge strides,” Pope said.