BYU took No. 4 Houston to the brink, but came up short once again

Houston downs BYU 75-68 as the Cougars go scoreless in the final two minutes.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Houston Cougars guard Ramon Walker Jr. (3) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Atiki Ally Atiki (4) fight for a rebound during the game against the Houston Cougars in Provo on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Provo • Add another near-miss to BYU’s ledger — with a 75-68 loss to No. 4 Houston perhaps the most painful of all of them.

BYU had Baylor in its grasp, Texas Tech on the ropes and Cincinnati in its sights. On Tuesday, the Cougars once again flirted with victory but couldn’t take control of the game in the second half.

This time, BYU tied a top-five team in the country with two minutes left. A Noah Waterman three made it a 68-68. But the Cougars wouldn’t score again as they missed their last five shots in regulation.

Trevin Knell had an open three that could’ve given BYU a two-point lead. It clanked off the back of the rim and the Cougars never recovered.

BYU had to foul the rest of the way and Houston walked out with a seven-point win. Richie Saunders and Dallin Hall also missed threes in the final two minutes that could have kept BYU within one possession.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) reacts to fouling out during the game against the Houston Cougars in Provo on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

“We had some looks we loved. They just didn’t go,” head coach Mark Pope said. “... We put ourselves in a position where we had a chance. We just couldn’t quite get over the top of it.”

BYU went on multiple second-half runs to stay in the game.

It went down 12 points early, but Knell scored six quick points to get the game back within a possession. He would finish with eight points.

Later on, after a series of four BYU turnovers, the Cougars again clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit.

Houston went on a three-minute scoring drought that allowed BYU to tie it on the Waterman three. He ended with a team-high 17 points.

“It is easy for teams to fall apart in those situations,” Hall said. “But we really came together.”

BYU’s offense sputtered at times as it settled for a number of early, deep threes. Jaxson Robinson went 2-of-10 for three. Knell went 1-of-7. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson noted that Robinson pulled up from 40 feet on several occasions with over 20 seconds in the shot clot.

“We got up 38 threes and that’s important for us,” Pope said. “... We are going to cross the line sometimes in getting super belligerent [and taking deep threes]. We just are. And we did tonight and that hurt us. If we save ourselves easily six possessions where we challenge the defense a little more ... it gives us a better chance to win the game.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars center Aly Khalifa (50) looks to pass as Houston Cougars guard Mylik Wilson (8) defends during the game against the Houston Cougars in Provo on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Houston had 15 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. LJ Cryer made a living on kick out threes as he went for 21 points. Fellow guard Jamal Shead had 14 points.

“We made a bunch of shots early in the second half,” Sampson said. “We found Cryer a couple of times on daggers. Daggers for us is when we get an offensive rebound and a kick out. But just thrilled for the win.”