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BYU fights through frustration in 63-45 exhibition victory

The exhibition against Colorado Christian didn’t exactly follow the script. BYU looked sluggish and out-of-sync for quite a while before pulling away.

BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas drives to the basket.
BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas drives to the basket during an exhibition against Colorado Christian, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
BYU Photo

PROVO — As exhibition games go, this one Thursday night at the Marriott Center between BYU and the Colorado Christian Cougars, a Division II program, didn’t exactly follow the script.

At least not in the first half.

In these exhibitions, the host team is supposed to dominate from start to finish, right?

Well, BYU looked sluggish and out of sync for quite a while before pulling away for a 63-45 win against Colorado Christian, which posted a 4-14 record last season.

“We wanted to beat this team by 50. But through the course of the game, we ended up with a win,” said senior guard Alex Barcello. “Maybe it wasn’t as much as we wanted it to be. But we’re going to go back, watch film, and learn from it.”

Barcello, who sat out of last Friday’s Blue-White Scrimmage due to a minor injury, finished with a game-high 16 points and Te’Jon Lucas added 11. Gideon George and Fousseyni Traore both had a team-high six rebounds.

“We started out slow. There was definitely frustration on the court,” Barcello said. “Our focus on the defensive end was there the whole game, even though we were down at one point. … The guys really locked in throughout the course of the game, especially coming out in the second half.”

For coach Mark Pope, it was the kind of exhibition that his team needed before officially tipping off the season at home Tuesday against Cleveland State.

“It was everything we wanted before. It was challenging. It challenged us a lot on the defensive end,” he said. “Getting a little bit of frustration is super important for us. I’m actually so happy about that. We’re excited to get going Tuesday. This is like a midseason conference game that’s going to be a battle.”

Five minutes into the exhibition, center Richard Harward appeared to have injured his knee and was taken to the locker room. He returned to the bench later in the first half but did not play the rest of the game.

“It’s hard seeing Rich collapse to the floor. It was super scary and jarring for everybody,” Pope said. “Our bench didn’t feel right for a long time after that because you’re trying to stay focused because you’re worried about your guy.”

Harward should be fine, Pope said, adding that he was held out of the remainder of the game as a precautionary measure.

Over the first 12 minutes, BYU made only four of its first 13 shots from the floor and one of its first seven from 3-point range. And the Cougars had seven turnovers.

BYU didn’t take its first lead until the 9:08 mark of the first half on a layup by Lucas. BYU trailed 19-17 with 2:42 left in the first half.

Pope went to his bench early and often due to his team’s struggles. Ten different players took the floor over the first six minutes of the game.

But BYU finished the half on a 9-2 run, including back-to-back 3s by Barcello and Traore’s one-handed putback just before the halftime buzzer to give BYU a 26-21 advantage at intermission.

In the second half, Traore started in the second half in place of Harward.

Nine straight points by George early in the second half (after being held scoreless in the first half) helped jumpstart BYU, which took a double-digit lead and eventually led by as many as 21.

BYU shot 57% from the floor in the second half after shooting 44% in the first half.

For the game, BYU committed 16 turnovers.

“Clearly, we have to fix that,” Pope said. “We can’t be handing the ball to the other team all of the time. We’ll get better.”

Coming off last season, which was so heavily affected by COVID-19, Barcello savored being able to play in front of a crowd.

“It’s great to have fans in here. It wasn’t a packed house but looking up and seeing people in the stands, it was a good feeling,” he said. “I definitely think there were some jitters as a team, playing in front of fans for the first time in a year or two. I think the guys responded really well to it.”

Pope attributed some of his team’s struggles to the fact the coaches kept the playbook “super bland,” as to not show too much to future opponents before the season starts. He also said his players feeling the adrenaline provided by the crowd may have played a factor as well.

“There were a lot of baked-in frustrations that could have stalled these guys a little bit tonight, but they stayed focused on defensive assignments the whole night,” Pope said. “The most important thing was staying locked in through frustration of turning the ball over and a bunch of other stuff. That was the best thing tonight.”

Sixteen different players saw action for BYU Thursday, which made Pope happy.

“It was really nice to get through the whole roster. I was super pleased to get everybody on the floor,” he said. “That’s really important. These young guys work so hard every day. So it was good to get them out there.”