By: Kalani Wilhelm
Special to the Deseret News
HONOLULU — The BYU men’s basketball team recovered from a sluggish start, but poor execution on back-to-back possessions when it mattered most doomed the Cougars in their 85-82 overtime loss to Harvard in opening-round action of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
Less-than-stellar starts on the road continue to be an unwanted theme for coach Dave Rose’s bunch thus far in the 2015-16 campaign, as the Cougars mustered just one basket in the first 11 minutes against a disciplined and ready Harvard team.
The Crimson last played on Dec. 8, but early on it was the Cougars who looked like they hadn’t hit the hardwood in 14 days. Harvard was the fresher team on the floor as it jumped out to a 19-5 lead, thanks to 8-for-12 shooting, included making good on 3 of 4 trey attempts.
“We had a really hard time scoring, and they scored on the first three possessions,” Rose said on the Cougar IMG Sports Network postgame show. “It’s the same guys we watch on film and the report we have. We have always been a good scoring team to start games, and we’re having problems with that on the road.”
Post players Kyle Davis and Corbin Kaufusi were a step slow early, but they seemed to awaken from their slumber and played meaner and more intense during the Cougar comeback. This was especially evident during a series of possessions where a Davis block was capped off at the other end by a Kaufusi dunk on a well-timed lob pass from Kyle Collinsworth. A Kaufusi swat moments later seemed to fuel the resurgent Cougars.
While the inside bigs asserted themselves on both ends of the court, Collinsworth seemed intent on picking up the pace offensively. Back-to-back baskets by Davis and Collinsworth cut the Crimson lead to seven before a Davis hook shot made the score 24-19.
A Zac Seljaas three gave the surging Cougars their first lead at 29-28 to help conclude a 24-12 run that erased a 16-point Harvard advantage. The Crimson quickly reclaimed the lead on the next possession to give Harvard a 31-29 halftime edge.
Harvard (4-6) was successful at running Cougar shooters off the 3-point line, effectively daring them to drive to the hoop. The Crimson defense, led by Zena Edosomwan and Evan Cummings, provided enough suffocation to force BYU players into difficult shots around the rim.
The Cougars struggled defensively inside as uncontested dunks and easy buckets were a theme in the second half. These lapses detoured any efforts by BYU to grab a lead and sustain it as momentum. The score went back and forth through much of the closely contested second stanza.
Chase Fischer was inefficient from the floor, missing all four of his 3-point attempts in 30 minutes of action. But freshman sharpshooter Seljaas entered the contest scorching hot, contributing his eight points in spurts during his 27 minutes of action before fouling out in the final minutes of regulation.
A timely 3-pointer by Nick Emery made the score 64-60 for the Cougars as chants of “defense” echoed throughout the Stan Sheriff Center, but the Cougars failed to add to the lead on their next two trips down the floor.
Harvard, which will take on Auburn Wednesday, relied exclusively on leading scorer Edosomwan, who was dominant inside to the tune of 23 points and 17 rebounds.
Fischer made two of three free throws to give the rejuvenated Cougars a 66-64 lead with 34 seconds on the clock, but Harvard responded on a driving layup by swingman Patrick Steeves that knotted the contest at 66-66. A desperation three from the top of the key by Fischer failed to draw iron.
BYU took an 82-79 lead on a driving layup by Collinsworth, but consecutive failed attempts to get the ball inside by Collinsworth and Emery resulted in free-throw makes by Harvard and a spot in the loser’s bracket where the Cougars will face New Mexico, which lost to Auburn 83-78 in the first game of the day.
In one of his grittier performances of the year, Davis, who recorded his sixth double-double of the season, came on strong in the second half and was relentless during key stretches. The junior finished with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with a team-high 16 rebounds.
“It was a tough game in the sense that we couldn’t close it out. We just couldn’t make a play down the stretch to win it,” said Davis, who was clearly distraught upon leaving the court. “The only thing you can do is just move forward. These losses just sting. We have a couple this season that hurt.”
Collinsworth poured in 23 points in 44 minutes. His eight assists were offset by seven turnovers, none more costly than the miscue in the waning seconds of overtime.
“Those are times when you need big shots and big plays,” Rose said. “We came up a play short tonight.”
In a gritty contest that featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes, failure to execute late means an early 9:30 a.m. tilt against New Mexico.