BYU entered Friday night on the road at No. 19 San Diego State hoping to learn more about itself — a classic, early-season measuring stick game.
Two contests into the season, who can tell who these Cougars are?
The one that nearly lost to Idaho State at home last Monday?
Or the one that led the Aztecs for more than 30 minutes in front of a sellout crowd at hostile Viejas Arena?
But BYU couldn’t seal the deal against SDSU.
The Cougars watched a pair of 10-point leads — one in the first half and one in the second — evaporate, and in the end, the Aztecs made most of the big plays and earned an 82-75 victory.
SDSU hit 6 of its last 8 shots from the field.
“We were up most of the game, we rebounded the ball really well. We were really sticking to our game plan and it was really working,” BYU guard Spencer Johnson, who scored a team-high 17 points and a team-high seven rebounds, told BYU Radio.
“There was a little stretch where they went on a run and we didn’t get back on transition defense and a few untimely turnovers. That’s really what hurt us.”
BYU (1-1) had 20 turnovers and SDSU converted those into 17 points. The Aztecs recorded 16 steals.
The Cougars had 23 turnovers in the season opener Monday against Idaho State.
“It’s the difference between a young team right now and where we want to be. We have 10 turnovers in the first half and 10 turnovers in the second half,” said coach Mark Pope.
“(SDSU) had eight turnovers in the first half and two in the second half. That’s the difference between a veteran, veteran team that’s been together and can shore things up and a young, new team … We’ve got to get better and we will.”
Added Pope: “We’re trying to play with more pace and we’re going through some wicked growing pains trying to do that and it’s super unfortunate, especially when it costs you the game.
“I’ve got to find a way to grow this way more efficiently and less costly.”
And there was a major disparity at the free throw line. SDSU went 26 of 37 from the charity stripe while BYU was 10 of 16.
That’s a difference of 16 points.
“It really got away from us at the rim and it got away from us controlling the ball. We’re stuck on this turnover trend, which is super painful for us,” Pope said.
“We really got beat up around the rim. We didn’t respond down low the way we needed to. We’re an undersized team … We got beat up a little inside.”
For SDSU (2-0), Jaedon LeDee finished with a game-high 23 points, Darrion Trammell added 21 and Nathan Mensah contributed 14 along with 10 rebounds.
Johnson got hit in the nose in the second half and he left plenty of blood on the floor, but that didn’t deter him at all. He hit 7 of 11 shots from the floor, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
As a team, the Cougars drilled 9 of 26 3-pointers.
Rudi Williams finished with 15 points and eight turnovers, while Gideon George had 11 points, a pair of 3-pointers and four rebounds.
Fousseyni Traore recorded 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the field and four rebounds.
Johnson said despite the loss, there were positives that came out of this game.
“We are capable of playing against teams like this,” he said. “They’re obviously a top-20 team. We had them. We were right there. I was proud of our guys’ effort. That’s something we can control every night …We can play with anybody.”
Added Pope: “I thought we competed well. We didn’t play great but we competed. I was really proud of that.
“We came into the gym and seemed completely unfazed. Those are good signs … We’ll find answers, but we didn’t have the answers tonight and that’s just crushing.”
BYU hosts Missouri State Wednesday night.