Newly nicknamed Gideon George helps BYU men’s basketball beat Westminster

George scored a season-high 17 points and made five 3-pointers as the Cougars win 65-53.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Gideon George (5) competes against the Westminster Griffins at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

While it’s impossible for Gideon George to have brought the warm island weather back from Hawaii, he certainly brought back a couple of things: Confidence, and a new self-given nickname.

“You guys should call me Island Boy,” the BYU forward told BYUtv after the Cougars beat Westminster 65-53.

George had a breakout game Wednesday at the Marriott Center, scoring a season-high 17 points and making five 3-pointers on a night when the team was missing Seneca Knight and Spencer Johnson due to illness. It was a continuation of his solid play during a three-game tournament in Hawaii over Christmas where BYU went 2-1 and he combined for 25 points and 5-of-11 from long range.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) blocks Westminster Griffins forward Brayden Johnson’s (13) drive to the basket in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Westminster Griffins at the Marriott Center in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

After he gave himself the nickname, he said guards Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas have been telling recently to keep shooting, which has helped with his confidence.

“I feel like I brought that confidence back from Hawaii,” George said.

George’s confidence and hot shooting helped BYU win its final tune-up before conference play begins. The Cougars started slow and led by only five points at halftime to a Division II Griffins team that had the game against BYU scheduled as an exhibition.

Coach Mark Pope seemed somewhat disappointed in his team’s overall effort when he did his postgame interview with BYUtv.

“Not our greatest game, there’s no doubt about it,” Pope said. “But I was excited for some of the young guys to get some time.”

One of those young guys was guard Hunter Erickson, who started and scored a career-high 10 points in an increased role due to Knight and Johnson’s absences. The team was already dealing with season-ending injuries to Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward.

“I was able to come out and make some plays for my teammates, but there is always room to improve,” Erickson told BYUtv.

Neither team shot very well in the first half and the Cougars led 29-24 after that period. But the shots started falling for the Cougars in the second half and the game quickly became a blowout. BYU’s biggest lead was 21.

The win over Westminster gave BYU a non-conference record of 12-3. The Cougars played most of the games on the road and played seven programs that competed in the NCAA Tournament this past March, going 6-1 against those teams.

Now the Cougars are looking toward playing the games that really matter, starting with Jan. 6 against Pacific. The West Coast Conference slate would have originally started with Portland on Saturday, but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 cases on Portland’s team.

The Cougars now have seven days in between games to rest and get healthy. When they return, it will be 2022, and Pope had a simple hope for the new calendar year when it comes to the court.

“Basketball-wise, I’m hoping that we get to play these games,” Pope said. “In general, I just hope people can stay healthy and we can have a great spring.”