PROVO — In this year’s National Invitation Tournament, the upset bug has infected favored teams with regularity.
And BYU was not immune to the phenomenon.
The No. 3 Cougars trailed the entire game and were thumped by No. 6 UT Arlington 105-89 Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT at the Marriott Center.
"The two teams were at two different places tonight," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "(UTA was) extremely good executing, and kind of a step ahead of us the whole time. We were a step slow.”
BYU saw its season end with a 22-12 record while the Mavericks improved to 26-8 and advanced to the second round with a date against No. 7 Akron, which knocked off No. 2 Houston earlier in the evening.
Being the home team in this NIT has been more of a curse than a blessing.
All the No. 3 seeds in the NIT have already been eliminated and three of the four No. 2 seeds are gone. And the top seed in BYU’s quadrant, California, also fell in the first round. No. 4 Colorado State is now the top-seeded team in that quadrant.
The inspired Mavericks put on a shooting exhibition against the defenseless Cougars, firing 63 percent from the field in the first half to build a lead that it never relinquished.
Drew Charles, who entered the game averaging 7.7 points per game, poured in 28 points, while Kaelon Wilson, who was averaging 8.2, finished with 20. UTA’s leading scorer, Kevin Hervey, had 20.
“Offensively, we were stagnant. We looked tired all night long," Rose said. "We just weren't good enough ... They put us in difficult situations almost on every possession."
As a team, the Mavericks shot 55 percent from the floor.
BYU was led by Eric Mika’s game-high 29 points and Nick Emery’s 24 points. But the Cougars had 20 turnovers and UTA scored 32 points off turnovers.
“When you turn the ball over 20 times at home," Rose said, "you’re going to have a hard time beating teams.”
The regular-season Sun Belt Conference champions outscored BYU in the paint 50-26.
The Cougars, playing without injured Elijah Bryant (knee), and with TJ Haws battling an illness, couldn’t keep up with UTA in a shootout.
"This game was a microcosm of our season,” said Rose, referring to his team's personnel issues due to injuries and illnesses. "TJ competed hard but you could tell he wasn't himself tonight."
Rose added that Yoeli Childs missed practice earlier this week due to illness.
Even when UTA cooled down in the second half, BYU experienced scoring droughts and it fell behind by as many as 23.
"Take nothing away from UT Arlington," Rose said. "They were really good tonight."
Haws finished with 11 points and Colby Leifson added 10.
The loss ended BYU’s 11-game home court winning streak in the NIT.
Trailing by seven at halftime, UT Arlington didn’t wear down in the second half. Less than one minute into the second half, the Mavericks increased their lead to 12. The Cougars trimmed the deficit to eight points with 13 minutes remaining but UTA continued its consistent and prolific scoring.
The first half was a track meet with both teams playing at a lightning-fast pace and red-hot shooting. BYU hit 13 of its first 20 shots while the UT Arlington buried 18 of their first 29 attempts.
UTA led 62-55 at halftime while shooting 63 percent from the floor while BYU shot 59 percent. The difference, in part, was the Cougars’ 10 turnovers that the Mavericks turned into 16 points.
"What really got us was they scored 60 points in the first half," Emery said.
Mika scored a career-high 23 first-half points while Emery chipped in 15, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Wilson poured in 18 points in the first half for UTA on 7 of 8 shooting while Charles added 13 and Hervey had 11.
The Cougars got some help in the first half from their bench as Zach Frampton drilled his first 3-pointer of the season with nine minutes left in the first half that cut BYU’s deficit to 34-33.
The Cougars tied the score a couple of times late in the first half but couldn’t take the lead.