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Cougars crumble — Prolonged scoring droughts hamper Cougars’ upset bid

SHARE Cougars crumble — Prolonged scoring droughts hamper Cougars’ upset bid

For most of the game, No. 20 BYU led No. 9 Michigan State, and it looked like the Cougars had a shot at knocking off their second top 10-ranked opponent this season.

But then, their shots wouldn't fall. A prolonged scoring drought in the first five minutes of the second half, then another one over the last five minutes of the game, spelled doom for the Cougars.

The Spartans rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to capture a 68-61 victory at EnergySolutions Arena before the largest crowd — 16,412 — to witness a college basketball game in Salt Lake City.

Instead of springing another upset, like their win over then-No. 6 Louisville in late November, the Cougars were simply upset.

"They know they had an opportunity (to win)," BYU coach Dave Rose said of his players, "but they let that slip away down the stretch."

The two teams traded shooting performances in the two halves. In the first, BYU shot 58 percent compared to 29 percent for Michigan State. In the second stanza, the Cougars made only 30 percent of their shots while the Spartans connected on a blistering 66 percent of their attempts from the field.

"We went cold there, but we left it all out there on the floor," said BYU center Trent Plaisted, who scored a game-high 17 points and had eight rebounds. "Michigan State's a really good team. They earned that win."

"Defensively, they were a lot more physical with us in the second half," Rose explained. "Our shots were more contested and we seemed to be in too big of a hurry. That might explain why we didn't shoot as well in the second half."

Following a 3-pointer by Jonathan Tavernari with a little more than three minutes remaining in the first half, BYU boasted a 14-point lead at 33-19. The Spartans trimmed BYU's advantage to 10 at halftime, 35-25.

Michigan State came out more aggressive in the second half as star guard Drew Neitzel, who scored only two points in the first half on 1-of-6 shooting, drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes.

Meanwhile, BYU scored only one field goal, on a basket by Plaisted, during the first five minutes of the half. The Spartans eventually recaptured the lead, 39-38 (their first lead since 2-0).

"Our offense couldn't get buckets the first part of the second half," said BYU guard Sam Burgess, who scored 15 points, including four 3-pointers. "We had turnovers and we missed a lot of open looks. We were ahead most of the game. We just needed to hit a couple of shots."

From there, the lead changed hands nine times as the Cougars and Spartans battled back-and-forth. Burgess scored on a conventional 3-point play to give the Cougars a 51-47 edge with about seven minutes left. But Michigan State responded by scoring six straight points.

Ben Murdock hit a 3-pointer to lift BYU to its final lead, 54-53, with five minutes remaining. That was the Cougars' last field goal until a Burgess 3-pointer with 21 seconds on the clock. But by then, Michigan State had the outcome in hand.

Neitzel finished with 15 points after going 5-for-8 from the floor in the second half. Forward Raymar Morgan poured in 17 points.

Plaisted's bruised, swollen nose spoke volumes about the physical nature of the game. "My nose wouldn't stop bleeding in the second half," he said.

Michigan State pounded the boards relentlessly, as it is known to do, outrebounding BYU, 37-29. The Spartans collected 18 offensive rebounds, including six by Morgan. Sutton grabbed 13 rebounds.

"That's where they hang their hats," Rose said of the Spartans' rebounding prowess.

BYU's lack of depth showed in the second half as well, too, as Lee Cummard played only a total of 20 minutes due to foul trouble. "Our bench isn't as deep as their bench," Rose said.

While he was disappointed with the loss, Rose could still see positives from the experience.

"This was a really good game for us," he said. "The fact that we battled a good team will prepare us for our league schedule. But it's always better when you win."

BYU's performance earned the respect of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

"We got completely outplayed in the first half, except for the rebounding," he said. "I'm very impressed with BYU. They're better than they were last year.

"This is a road win against a quality team I expect to be in the NCAA Tournament. I think (BYU) is a team that can go a long way."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com