As everyone knows, BYU basketball is getting ready to join the Big 12, the nation’s top hoops conference, next season.

Big 12 Conference? 

On Monday night in the season opener at the Marriott Center, BYU had big trouble with the Big Sky Conference.

The Cougars had to rally in the final moments to defeat Idaho State 60-56, thanks to a game-clinching 3-pointer by Spencer Johnson with 11.2 seconds remaining. 

BYU was a 23-point favorite going into the contest. It would have been a disastrous Quad 4 loss. But the Cougars survived. 

Now, the competition level gets tougher. BYU visits No. 19 San Diego State on Friday night. 

Clearly, with three-year starter Alex Barcello having moved on, the Cougars are searching for an offensive identity — and an offensive leader.

Much of last night, they seemed to be waiting for someone to step up, and Johnson was that man. 

In the weeks leading up to the start of the season, many thought it might be senior point guard Rudi Williams. But he made only 2 of 9 shots, finishing with seven points.

Late in the game, he wasn’t on the floor — it was freshman returned missionary Dallin Hall, who finished with four points, four assists and two steals. 

“Because of the feel of the game, Dallin was helping us make a little bit of sense on the offensive end. We struggled offensively the whole night. Most of that’s on me. Dallin had a pace about him that was helping us feel like we were in familiar spaces,” coach Mark Pope said. “We ran with him down the stretch. We have a lot of confidence in every player on this roster.

“There will be times when Richie (Saunders) finishes games, there will be times when Trey Stewart finishes games for us. We’re really fortunate to have a bunch of guys that we can turn to when the game is fitting their feel in the moment a little bit. Dallin did a tremendous job tonight.”

Pope has been saying for weeks that he wants to give his players more freedom to make plays rather than call set plays from the sideline. 

“In the second half, I went to some play-calling but I’m fighting myself the whole time because that’s my native instinct,” he said Monday night. “I want to control the game. I’m not going to do that this year. We’re going to be better than that.

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“So we’ll pick and choose our spots and we’ll figure it out. We have really talented players. A lot of credit to Idaho State. Their defensive game plan was great.”

BYU shot only 37% from the field, including 3 of 16 from 3-point range, and it had 23 turnovers. 

“We’re kind of this high-ceiling, low-floor right now. We were dwelling on the floor a little bit today in terms of our ball movement,” Pope said. “The more freedom that you give, the more chance there is that you get stuck a little bit. You’re not telling guys exactly what to do, exactly how to do it and exactly when to do it. It’s going to be a learning process for us. But we’re committed to it.” 

Pope had called a backdoor play for the Cougars’ final possession but instead, Johnson took the initiative and made the crucial shot his team needed. 

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If Monday’s game is any indication, this season could be quite an adventure. 

Still, sophomore forward Fousseyni Traore said he didn’t doubt that his team would emerge victorious Monday. 

“I believe in my team,” said Traore, who recorded 15 points and 11 rebounds against ISU. “At the end of the day, I know we’re always going to win. We just have to fight through it.”

There may be many more games like that one this season for the Cougars.

BYU players huddles before what would be a tough battle against Idaho State Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Provo.
BYU players huddle before what would be a tough battle against Idaho State Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Provo. | BYU Photo
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