LAS VEGAS — For the most part, nothing has come easy for the BYU basketball team this season. 

Even when the Cougars surprisingly led No. 21 Creighton by 11 points with 3:26 remaining Saturday night at Michelob ULTRA Arena, they seemed to do everything they could to give away the game with a slew of turnovers and some missed free throws. 

After a 12-point Bluejay run, BYU, which entered the night as 9.5-point underdogs, trailed by one point with 26 seconds remaining.

But in the end — with shades of his game-winner with 1.4 seconds on the clock against Missouri State on Nov. 16 — freshman guard Dallin Hall missed a shot in the paint but grabbed his own rebound and scored to give the Cougars a one-point lead with 11 seconds left. 

And with .6 left on the clock, Hall calmly buried two free throws to lift BYU to a dramatic, and shocking, 83-80 victory over the Big East Conference preseason favorites at the Jack Jones Hoopfest. 

“We are a work in progress and it makes it really fun. I think I just wanted it for our guys so badly because it hasn’t been an easy road for us and these guys have tried so hard to stay focused,” said coach Mark Pope. “And we are getting better. I just want them to feel the joy of that, which we were really fortunate to do.”

With the win, the Cougars (6-5) snapped a two-game losing streak — coming off of humbling losses to South Dakota and Utah Valley University — while handing Creighton (6-4) its fourth consecutive loss. 

While Hall’s heroics were the difference in the end, the guy he replaced in the starting lineup earlier this week, senior Rudi Williams, scored a team-high 26 points. 

“It took a lot to pull out the win in that one. Creighton’s an incredible team,” said BYU freshman Richie Saunders, who scored 10 points and played strong defense. “We got up and they showed their abilities and climbed back into the game. But because of people like Dallin Hall, who stepped up, and Rudi, and everybody stepped up and were tough, we pulled out the win.” 

Three other Cougars also scored in double-figures with 11 points each — Jaxson Robinson, Gideon George and Fousseyni Traore, who also had 12 rebounds.

While BYU outshot Creighton from the field, 45% to 38%, the most telling stat Saturday was the Cougars’ ability to control the boards. BYU outrebounded the Bluejays 50-29 and held a 16-4 edge in offensive rebounds. The Cougars scored 21 second-chance points compared to just five for Creighton. 

That’s why Hall’s game-winning putback was emblematic of the way BYU won.

“It’s probably fitting that we lost on an offensive rebound because that was the story of the game,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “We got them to take the shot we wanted them to take. We just weren’t able to get that rebound.”

“(Rebounding) was the first one where we were all doing it together,” Saunders said. “Truly, that’s what it was. It was a battle. If somebody get the hit and pushes the guy out, another guy is coming in to clean up the board. We saw that all night. It’s easy to see who had the number of rebounds but it’s team rebounding. It was 50-29. That’s been such a big point of emphasis for us. It feels good to do it together.”

Of course, part of the reason why the Cougars had such a lopsided edge in that area was because the Bluejays’ star 7-foot-1 center, Ryan Kalkbrenner, who averages a team-high 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds 76.3% shooting from the field, was sidelined due to an illness. 

That required significant adjustments on both sides. 

3 keys to BYU’s win over No. 21 Creighton

“Them missing their big man inside changed everything for everybody. He was the entire, 100% focus of our game plan,” Pope said. “He’s such a dominating force offensively and defensively. In the two hours before the game, we were re-thinking everything that we had prepped the last couple of days. And I’m sure Creighton was the same, trying to do that.” 

“We’re No. 1 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. I have a hard time believing that’s all Ryan Kalkbrenner,” said McDermott, who explained he learned after Thursday’s practice that Kalkbrenner would be out. “But tonight, it would lead you to believe it was all Ryan Kalkbrenner because we were just dominated on the glass.”

Also, the Cougars, who found out just a couple of hours before the game that Kalkbrenner wouldn’t play, outscored Creighton in the paint, 42-24. 

With Kalkbrenner unavailable, Arthur Kaluma scored 27 points for the Bluejays. The Cougars struggled to contain him — until Kaluma fouled out with six minutes remaining in the game. 

BYU eventually seized a game-high 11-point advantage.

But over the final 3:26, Creighton scored 12 unanswered points before Hall’s putback. 

“You saw a lot of character on the court with Creighton also,” Pope said. “Creighton had every reason to fold the tents with a couple of minutes left, down 10. They managed to scrap back in it. It’s a real credit to them. That’s why these games are so great.”

“I’m very proud that we showed some grit the last three minutes and fought and kept playing until the clock hit zero and gave ourselves a chance,” McDermott said. 

The Cougars trailed by eight points early on, 19-11, as it appeared Creighton was taking control of the game by knocking down five consecutive 3-pointers. 

But BYU didn’t panic. The Cougars chipped away at the deficit and took an eight-point lead. At halftime, they were up 49-44.

The Bluejays retook the lead, briefly midway through the second half. BYU weathered that storm and enjoyed a 12-0 spurt before going up by 11 points, 76-65. 

Then, as the Cougars have been prone to do this season, they committed a flurry of turnovers — six turnovers over a two-minute stretch against a vexing Creighton press — and Hall missed two crucial free throws, opening the door for the Bluejays to steal the win against BYU. 

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But the Cougars overcame that collapse and survived in a game that featured 12 ties and 13 lead changes. 

“We did some bad things and we had some huge plays down the stretch,” Pope said. “We just made plays when we needed them. It was a little frantic and we were on our heels a little bit. But the guys stepped up and did what they had to do.”

The Cougars host Western Oregon Thursday. 

TIP-INS: Former BYU forward Dalton Nixon attended Saturday’s game … The Cougars had shot 11 of 59 from 3-point range the previous two games. They hit 7 of 24 against Creighton … BYU’s bench outscored Creighton’s 38-8 and the Cougars had 21 assists on 30 made baskets. 

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