A win against the Saint Mary’s Gaels could have all but secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament picture for the BYU men’s basketball team.
But the Gaels had other plans.
BYU lost 69-64 to Saint Mary’s on the road after a furious comeback fell just short in the final two minutes of the game. The Cougars will now likely have to reach the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game to have a chance at an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
“This was an important game in that cause,” coach Mark Pope said on BYU Radio when asked what it would take to get the Cougars into the NCAA Tournament. “The biggest challenge for us is how do we pick ourselves back up, put ourselves back together when we’re really feeling our backs against the wall right now and come compete at a really high level on Thursday.”
Senior guard Alex Barcello led the way for the Cougars with 22 points, while junior Seneca Knight added 10 points. No on else scored in double figures for the Cougars, who committed 17 turnovers and tallied only six assists.
“We just couldn’t overcome the turnovers tonight,” Pope said.
Caleb Lohner scored nine points and had 11 rebounds off the bench. Gideon George had nine points and six rebounds.
The Gaels went on an 11-0 run to take a 57-44 lead with 10:29 left in the game. A few minutes before that, the Cougars had tied the game at 42.
But over the last half of the game, BYU closed to within three. Barcello’s 3-pointer made the score 67-64 in favor of the Gaels. His potentially game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out, Gideon George’s follow shot at the rim missed, and two free throws by the Gaels sealed the game.
Tommy Kuhse scored 25 for Saint Mary’s.
Falling to Saint Mary’s represent a Quadrant 1 loss for BYU. The Gaels were No. 22 heading into Saturday in the NCAA NET rankings.
Now the Cougars will likely have to win their final two games of the regular season and make it all the way to the WCC Tournament championship game in order to stay in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
BYU plays Loyola Marymount University on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday. Both of those games are at the Marriott Center.
Note: Fousseyni Traore returned to the starting lineup Saturday after suffering a groin injury last week and not practicing Monday or Tuesday.