It was an uncharacteristically rough shooting night for BYU guard Alex Barcello Wednesday night at the Marriott Center.
But against Texas Southern, the No. 18 Cougars (5-0) proved that they have another talented guard that can score, and that they have a strong inside presence to compensate.
Five BYU players scored in double figures, including a team-high 18 points from guard Te’Jon Lucas in an 81-64 victory over the Tigers.
Lucas also dished out a season-high seven assists and had zero turnovers.
“For (Lucas) to be 7-0 against a physical, feisty, athletic, championship team like this, it’s super impressive,” said coach Mark Pope. “What an unbelievable showing he had.”
Freshman Fousseyni Traore came off the bench to score a career-high 13 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocks while Barcello had 12 points (on 3 of 11 shooting from the floor). Still, despite his shooting woes, Barcello knocked down a Jimmer Fredette-like 3 with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
Gavin Baxter added 11 points and collected four rebounds and Gideon George scored 10 and grabbed a career-high 16 boards.
“Those guys are special. We’re trying to find different ways for them to score. Those guys always do a great job,” Lucas said of the Cougars’ post players. “They’re part of the heart and soul of our team. It showed tonight that it can be anybody’s night. It doesn’t have to be Alex Barcello or me. It can be anybody. It was great to see everybody else chipping in and contributing to the win.”
Traore, who hit 5 of 7 shots from the field, returned to the floor for the first time since scoring 10 points in the blowout win over Oregon on Nov. 16. He was held out of last Saturday’s victory over Central Methodist after suffering an injury.
“Fouss is a big body. That’s a grown-man freshman,” Lucas said. “It’s exciting to get him back out there on the floor. We missed him last game. He’s very impactful when he’s out there.”
After collecting his 16th board of the night, George, who was just 1 of 8 from 3-point range, went to the bench, limping.
“He’s going to be fine. He’s a super-tough kid and he had an unbelievable performance tonight,” Pope said. “In some areas, he was incredible and in some areas, he struggled a little bit. But if you take the whole sum of it, it was super impactful.”
Also key was BYU’s rebounding. Texas Southern (0-6) is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams and the Cougars outrebounded the Tigers 52-38. BYU had 20 second-chance points, compared to just 5 for Texas Southern.
“It gives you so much confidence on the offensive end when you hit the offensive glass. Texas Southern is a great transition team. They push it hard,” Pope said. “Going to the offensive glass doesn’t only give us extra opportunities to score, it also negates transition offense. It’s awesome. It’s another top-10 offensive rebounding team … Rebounding isn’t super-sexy, but it’s great.”
“We feel like we can be one of the best rebounding teams in the country,” Lucas said.
With the victory, BYU improved to 5-0 for the first time since the 2010-11 season, when the Cougars finished 32-5 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
BYU had a slow start Wednesday and trailed 4-0 in the opening minutes before going on a 9-0 run and eventually leading 23-10, thanks in part to back-to-back buckets by Traore.
“We feel like we can be one of the best rebounding teams in the country.” — BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas
Barcello didn’t score his first points of the game until the 7:27 mark of the first half. The Cougars didn’t make their first 3-pointer, after nine misses, until the 5:17 mark when Trevin Knell drilled a 3.
BYU led at intermission, 43-30, as it knocked down three 3s in the final three minutes of the half — by Spencer Johnson, George and Barcello. The Cougars made just 4 of 17 3-pointers over the first 20 minutes and they were 8 of 32 on the night.
“They fought hard. Give them all the credit,” Lucas said of Texas Southern. “They punched us in the mouth a lot of times and we were able to respond.”
In the second half, BYU led by as many as 19, 71-52, after a Traore jumper. A couple of minutes earlier, Traore buried a 3-pointer.
“He was open and he hit it,” Lucas said. “We expect nothing less.”
While Barcello wasn’t his usual self shooting the ball, he did plenty of other things to help the Cougars win.
“Alex’s shot didn’t fall but he had 12 points and four steals,” Lucas said. “Defense is our main priority all the time and rebounding and that’s what’s been helping contribute to wins.”
Lucas not only filled the scoring void, but he also made plays, including a crowd-pleasing no-look alley-oop to Baxter.
“He reminds me in some sense of T.J. Haws in terms of his ability to make plays off the bounce,” Pope said of Lucas. “They’re very different players but Te’Jon is certainly accomplishing things on the floor that’s reminiscent of T.J. in terms of his vision and the way he can penetrate and then sling the ball anywhere on the court and find guys … He’s a gifted playmaker.”
So the Cougars maintained their perfect record but tough non-conference games are still looming.
BYU visits Utah Saturday.
“A good 5-0 start is something to be proud of,” Lucas said, “but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
TIP-INS: Texas Southern was led by PJ Henry’s 21 points … Barcello’s streak of 38 consecutive free throws ended in the first half. It was the third-longest free throw streak in school history behind Jimmer Fredette (39) and Tyler Haws (50) … Attendance was 15,646 … BYU is averaging about 15,000 fans per home game, ranking No. 10 in the country … The Cougars have allowed fewer than 65 points in each of its five games this season.