DENVER — Mike Hall never knew what whizzed by him.
Well, he knew the name, recognized the license tag number (3), but it was a make and model he could not stop.
Actually, the scoring mass was Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara and his uncanny ability to come off a high screen and pull a quick trigger from 22 to 24 feet out that proved the boogeyman for the Cougars Thursday in the Pepsi Center before a crowd of 19,286.
McNamara scored a career high 43 points, 27 of them from beyond the arc, to bury the Cougars and send them packing home to Provo in the NCAA's first-round action.
The last time an opposing player scored that many on the Cougars was 23 years ago — or 725 games. It was that BYU squad that made the Sweet 16 with Danny Ainge in 1981 under Frank Arnold, and it occurred in the Pit in Albuquerque when Kenny Page went off for 44 points. That night the Cougars won. This time, with McNamara, BYU could not overcome the point runoff.
The Cougars have gone through four coaches since that night, played myriad defenses and gone up against the likes of Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, UConn, UCLA and other big teams. Nobody lit up the Cougars like this Syracuse guard did on Thursday.
McNamara's nine 3-pointers was the most the kid had since the season opener against Charlotte when he had 8 and scored a previous career high 34 points. The nine makes moved him the third-leading career 3-point shooter in school history, and he's got two years go play.
"They were setting picks and most guards don't come off screens like that," BYU senior Kevin Woodberry said. "But he came off and every time you didn't show they were going up and he got on fire. Everything was going down for him for a while."
Woodberry wished BYU would have changed it up a little — giving him a chance to spell MWC defensive player of the year Hall and get a crack at McNamara. "I would have liked to see us run more guys at him and see what happened . Mike was getting tired and he didn't score hardly at all in the second half. I don't even want to get started on what I think should have happened."
Said Hall: "It was his night," Hall said of McNamara. "He did a great job coming off screens and using his big man in transition and we're not used to guarding it. He did a good job exposing that and did it all game."
Hall said he wasn't tired from guarding McNamara and that's why he didn't go quiet after scoring four second-half points following a 13-point opening 20 minutes that included making all three of the trey attempts.
"I knew when they went out of that zone that we'd be attacking their man with our first and second options and that's getting it to Rafael (Araujo) and Mark (Bigelow). I wasn't as aggressive but having said that, we still had a chance to win the game. We got the shots we wanted to win the game at the end and they didn't go."
"He had a career night, what do you do, what do you do?" Woodberry said. "Good luck next year."
SONS OF GUNS: Cougar freshman Austin Ainge isn't the only son of a former professional star in the NCAA Tournament this week. According to Rocky Mountain News columnist Sam Adams, North Carolina center Sean May is the son of former University of Indiana center Scott May; Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry is the son of former major leaguer Darryl Strawberry. Princeton's first-team league guard Will Venable is the son of former major league baseball player Max Venable, who played for the Cincinnati Reds affiliate in Denver.
GREAT SCOTT PURSUIT: Air Force coach Joe Scott's success isn't lost on the coach hunt that goes on this time of year. Rumors floating around Denver have Texas A&M's athletic director Bill Byrne in town with an eye on speaking to Scott if AFA is done. Said Scott of the rumors: If I hear from Bill Byrne after our season, there will be a time and a place to discuss that. Until I hear from him, it's just wasted thoughts."
MWC PREAMBLE: Holding the NCAA first round regional in Denver may have impacted local hoop fans who had to choose where they'd invest their money in March — in the MWC or the NCAA. According to MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, the league's tournament last week averaged about 8,300 attendance per session, the lowest in MWC history. The commissioner, however, said it was a starting point to build on for a new site after changing from Las Vegas.