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No. 24 BYU men’s basketball finds its shooting, beats Utah State

The Cougars shot 50% from the field and 45.8% from the 3-point line as they controlled much of the 82-71 victory.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) tries to push past the defense in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

Provo • BYU junior guard Trevin Knell couldn’t miss in the opening minutes of the first half for the BYU men’s basketball team. His accuracy carried over to the the rest of the Cougars, who had one of their best shooting performances in the past few games.

The No. 24 Cougars (8-1) shot 50% from the field and 45.8% from the 3-point line en route to an 82-71 victory over the Utah State Aggies (6-3). The win was BYU’s second against an in-state opponent.

It’s the number from beyond the arc that is so notable. In the previous three games, BYU shot 15-of-62 from that distance (24.2%).

Coach Mark Pope said the way his team has been shooting lately is not indicative of its capability.

“We’re a good-shooting team,” Pope said. “Our numbers aren’t there right now, but we’re a good-shooting team. We know it.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) Utah State Aggies forward Brandon Horvath (4) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) battle for possession in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

The Cougars shot 11 of 24 from the 3-point line against Utah State. A big part of that was Knell, who made three of four attempts from distance. He finished with a season-high 13 points, all of which came in the first half.

“How about Trevin tonight?” senior guard Alex Barcello said. “Starting off in the first half just letting it fly and the ball just was dropping for him. I was so happy.”

Barcello led BYU with 17 points, but struggled shooting on a 4-of-12 evening. Senior guard Te’Jon Lucas scored 14 points, while junior guard Trevin Knell put in 13 off the bench on 5-of-6 shooting.

Aggies senior forward Justin Bean scored 20 points and added seven rebounds. Those numbers are lower than his season averages.

BYU built a 20-point lead early in the second half, but the Aggies fought back with a 16-3 run and reduced their deficit to just seven with less than seven minutes left in the game. In that stretch, Utah State made seven straight shots.

The Aggies had opportunities to close the gap in the final few minutes, but they missed several key free throws. They finished 9 of 20 from the free-throw line.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies guard Max Shulga (11) reaches in on the ball along with Brigham Young Cougars guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) and Utah State Aggies guard Sean Bairstow (2) in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

The Cougars did yeoman’s work with forcing turnovers. The Aggies committed nine of them in the first 20 minutes and ended the game with 17.

Knell made this first three shots of the game and sparked a 15-6 opening run for the Cougars. BYU then went scoreless for more than three minutes, which allowed the Aggies to the tie game at 17.

But Utah State went on a scoring drought of its own and the Cougars took advantage of, scoring 12 straight points. That was the margin at halftime as BYU led 45-33.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies guard Rylan Jones (15), center, gets pressured by Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

Despite the team playing smaller and at a faster pace right now due to injuries, Barcello doesn’t think the team will need to rely more heavily on its shooting.

“We’re 8-1 and we haven’t shot the ball that well, so I don’t think [we need to rely on shooting] very much,” Barcello said. “But I know the ball is going to fall for us. We’re going to keep shooting with confidence and hopefully that will take is to another level.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies guard Rylan Jones (15), center, gets pressured by Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

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