Neither BYU nor Saint Mary’s could buy a basket for much of the first half of their game Saturday night at the Marriott Center. When they weren’t clanking shots from the perimeter, they were turning the ball over.
But Cougars junior forward Seneca Knight came off the bench and ignited his team. His three-point play started a 9-0 run that closed the first half and gave BYU the momentum advantage for the remainder of the game.
The Cougars (14-3) beat the Gaels 52-43 in a game that could have major West Coast Conference implications. Both teams came into Saturday’s game with three losses overall on the season, and it was the conference opener for Saint Mary’s.
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a physical battle,” guard Alex Barcello said on a postgame radio show. “We really had the right mindset coming into this game.”
The Gaels (12-4) closed to within seven points with less than five minutes left in the game. But the Cougars continued to hold them at bay — first with a floater by Trevin Knell and then with a driving layup by Te’Jon Lucas.
Lucas led the Cougars with 10 points, while Alex Barcello scored eight points and added eight rebounds and four assists. Knell scored nine points, and Fousseyni Traore had nine points and 11 rebounds.
The Gaels like to slow the pace and play methodical and patient offense, and they dictated the pace for most of the first half. The score stood at 9-7 in favor of BYU for nearly five straight minutes, as both teams struggled on the field.
But as the Cougars started getting their offensive pace going, they also ratcheted up their defense. Saint Mary’s had multiple scoring droughts, starting with one that lasted about 10 minutes in the first half. The Cougars built a 14-point second half lead while holding the Gaels scoreless for nearly four minutes.
BYU ended up limiting Saint Mary’s to just 29% shooting, including 17% from 3-point range.
Both teams combined for less than 100 points and only five fast break points. The Cougars shot only 1 of 13 from the 3-point line and got outrebounded 42-36.
“The rewarding thing about winning this way is it is just guts and physicality and fight and dealing with frustration and being together,” coach Mark Pope said on a postgame radio show.