BYU hasn’t experienced many games this season that have come down to the final seconds.
The Cougars received that kind of challenge Thursday night against Vanderbilt at the Stan Sheriff Center in the Diamond Head Classic semifinals.
And unfortunately for BYU, it couldn’t close the deal.
The Cougars trailed by two points with a chance to win the game, or tie it and send it into overtime in the final 30 seconds. But Alex Barcello’s runner in the paint with eight seconds remaining rimmed out. Barcello grabbed the offensive rebound with five seconds on the clock, and as he tried to get another shot off, he appeared to have been fouled.
But the officials swallowed their whistles, time ran out and the Commodores danced away with a dramatic 69-67 victory.
“Obviously, it’s a super disappointing outcome,” said coach Mark Pope.
But BYU (10-3) lost this game long before the final few crucial seconds.
Vanderbilt’s star guard Scotty Pippen Jr., the preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the floor. He scored the Commodores’ final 16 points over the final 7:21 of the game.
“At the end of the day, we just couldn’t keep Pippen away from the rim on the defensive end and that really, really hurt us,” Pope said. “We couldn’t manage that down the stretch and it put a lot of pressure on us. We’ve got to guard and rebound a little bit better.”
Meanwhile, BYU coughed up 19 turnovers — with bad passing, bad dribbling, traveling violations, offensive fouls, etc. — and Vanderbilt (8-4) scored 18 points off of those miscues.
“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over 20 times. It’s just hard. You’re just gifting 20 more possessions to the other team, 20 more opportunities to score,” Pope said. “I’ve got to do a better job of putting our guys in positions where they’re comfortable protecting the ball. There’s a lot of factors but that’s the one that stands out. In the last two games, we’re averaging 17 turnovers a game. That’s crazy. It’s not us. It’s not who we’ve been. It’s something that we’ll fix.”
For the second straight game, Barcello, who scored a team-high 15 points, found himself in foul trouble late. On Thursday, he checked out of the game with six minutes left after being assessed his fourth personal foul. He returned with four minutes remaining.
With 1:06 left on the clock, and the Cougars trailing 69-64, Barcello knocked down a huge 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 69-67.
BYU got the ball back with 38 seconds left after Pippen missed a layup and Fousseyni Traore, who finished with a game-high 15 rebounds, grabbed the board to give the Cougars a chance to tie or win the game.
But in the end, Barcello’s shot didn’t fall.
And BYU fell for the third time this season.
Besides Barcello, three other BYU players scored in double figures. Caleb Lohner and Spencer Johnson scored 11 apiece and Trevin Knell add 10, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Traore also chipped in nine points to go along with his 15 rebounds.
“Fouss was terrific again,” Pope said. “He’s growing into this space and we’re going to need him to keep getting better every day.”
For Vanderbilt, Myles Stute scored 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Jordan Wright contributed 13 points.
The Commodores advance to the Diamond Head Classic championship game against Stanford Saturday night.
BYU faces Liberty Saturday at 4:30 p.m. MST in the third-place game.
Clearly, the Cougars need to figure out a way to cut down on their turnovers.
“It’s something we’ve got to remedy,” Pope said. “The season is a journey. Things ebb and flow and this is going to be a huge emphasis for us right now. We’ve got to schematically get better and pay attention to detail if we’re going to be as good a team as we’d like to be.”
The tournament takes a break Friday for Christmas Eve before resuming Christmas Day. The Cougars are going to use their time off to determine how they can improve.
“This stinks because it just ruins Christmas,” Pope said. “But we’re going to make it a great Christmas because we’re going to spend the next 48 hours nonstop trying to find a way to get better so we can compete against a great Liberty team … We can’t fix this outcome but we can certainly get better.”