clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

No. 24 BYU found a new way to win against Utah State

Playing with a different style, the Cougars hit 11 3-pointers and defeated the Aggies — their 10th in a row against USU.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) splits Utah State Aggies guard Rylan Jones (15) and Utah State Aggies forward Brandon Horvath (4) as BYU and Utah State play an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. BYU won 82-71.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) splits Utah State Aggies guard Rylan Jones (15) and Utah State Aggies forward Brandon Horvath (4) as BYU and Utah State play an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. BYU won 82-71.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — At one point this week, BYU was sitting at No. 333 nationally in 3-point shooting.

Well, the No. 24 Cougars picked a good time to make a bunch of 3-pointers. And just maybe their 3-point shooting slump is over.

BYU knocked down 11 3-pointers, and made 19 of 22 attempts from the free throw line, to defeat Utah State 82-71 Wednesday night at the Marriott Center in front of a crowd of 15,669.

“We needed it tonight because we didn’t guard great,” coach Mark Pope said of his team’s shooting from distance. “This is a super talented offensive team in Utah State. This was a super fortunate night for us to make shots. It kind of carried the day for us. It was really important.”

The Cougars have now won 10 consecutive games against the Aggies.

As BYU goes through the process of changing its identity and style of play without both Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward, it is spreading the floor and playing with a faster pace.

The Cougars showed signs of good offensive flow most of the night — ball movement, fast tempo and sharing the ball. BYU had 19 assists on its 26 made baskets.

“Coach told us that we needed to step up our pace and we work on that every day now, making sure we’re going game speed — making the right reads,” said guard Alex Barcello, who scored a team-high 17 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. “Pace, space and extra pass. These guys are really bought into that. We’re listening to coach and everything he’s showing us on film. Thankfully, it translated tonight and we were able to hit shots and move the ball really well.”

“We’re a good shooting team. We know it,” Pope said. “We’re in a flow right now that with the space on the floor, we’re better earning each other good shots. It’s a combination of the two. And being at home. It’s all those things working in harmony to make that happen.”

Guard Trevin Knell drilled 3 of 4 3-pointers and scored 13 points in the first half to lift the Cougars to a 12-point halftime lead. Knell didn’t score the rest of the way but he helped BYU (8-1) get off to a strong start against the Aggies.

“We’ve had a lot of games where shots haven’t fallen,” Barcello said. “How about Trevin tonight? In the first half he was letting it fly and the ball was dropping for him. I was so happy.”

Te’Jon Lucas scored 14 points and had six assists while Fousseyni Traore had 14 points and four rebounds. Traore hit 8 of 8 free throws, including four in the final 33.9 seconds that helped seal the victory.

The Cougars pushed their lead to 20 points, 66-46, on a Spencer Johnson 3-pointer with 11:30 remaining in the game.

That’s when Utah State (6-3) started to claw its way back.

The Aggies were led by Justin Bean, who scored a game-high 20 points, to go along with seven rebounds (five under his average). Brandon Horvath had 14 points and Sean Bairstow chipped in 11.

Over the final 10 minutes, the 6-foot-10 Horvath and the 6-8 Bairstow did most of their damage and whittled the deficit down to a little as seven points with 1:10 left in the game. Horvath hit 4 of 5 3-pointers for the game.

During a five-minute stretch, BYU’s offense turned stagnant. The Cougars had four turnovers and zero points as the Aggies closed the gap.

“We were so effective in transition tonight. We just weren’t getting stops. We were up 20 and the next thing we looked up and we were up eight,” Pope said. “We went through that stretch where we couldn’t get any stops. There was a little bit of fatigue on the floor. This is a new project. This is not something we spent three months fine-tuning. This is something that we spent five days nursing together. We’ll get better.”

After missing the previous two games due to an illness, BYU forward Gideon George, who lost 12 pounds over the past week, returned to the floor. He came off the bench and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and provided solid defense.

“He has such an impact on the defensive end. Bean had 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the first half,” Barcello said. “Gideon checked into the game and he started getting stops. That’s what he did. He slowed Bean up. We count on him for that and also to crash the boards, which he does so wonderfully.”

Pope was pleased with the way his team has embraced a new style of play.

“We’re going through this transition right now,” he said. “As a coach, I’m really blessed that I have a locker room full of guys that are, one, capable of playing different ways and, two, willing.”

The Cougars hit six straight free throws over the final 46 seconds. The Aggies, on the other hand, made only 9 of 20 free throws on the night. Pope credited the crowd, particularly the “ROC” student section for helping in that regard.

“This ROC helps us win games,” Pope said.

While the Cougars won games earlier this season thanks in large part to rebounding, they still outrebounded USU, 31-26.

“We’re used to getting 18 or 20 offensive rebounds. We got five tonight,” Pope said. “The tradeoff is, we’re actually using more space on the floor and we’re getting a little bit better ball movement and we’re going to win that way, too. I love teams that can win more than one way and this team has proven that it can.”

BYU travels to Sioux Falls, South Dakota Saturday for a matchup with Creighton.

TIP-INS: Cougar guard Hunter Erickson made his first 3 of the season in the first half … USU outscored BYU in the paint, 28-22 … The Cougars’ bench outscored the Aggies, 30-20 … BYU hasn’t lost to Utah State since 2011. The Cougars haven’t dropped a game at home to the Aggies since 2004.