PROVO — A freshman kind of stole the show for BYU on Senior Night.
Fousseyni Traore recorded a double-double, including a career-high 25 points and a career-high 19 rebounds — tying a freshman school record for rebounds in a single game.
Yet it was a senior, Alex Barcello, playing in his final regular season game at the Marriott Center, who literally signaled a change in the complexion of the contest that resulted in a 75-59 victory over Pepperdine.
For much of the first 28 minutes, the Cougars looked listless against the last-place, short-handed Waves, who were playing without their leading scorer Jan Zidek and a couple of other key contributors.
With 12 minutes remaining, BYU was clinging to a 44-40 advantage.
Then came Barcello’s pass to Atiki Ally Atiki for a dunk. And on the next possession, Barcello executed a wicked, crossover step-back 3-pointer to lift the Cougars to a 49-40 advantage, their largest lead of the night at that point.
And that play sent a jolt of energy into the crowd of 15,721.
Right after that shot went down, Barcello stared down the fans and tapped his wrist, Damian Lillard-style.
It was Barcello’s Time. And BYU’s time.
“I wanted to throw it out there,” Barcello said. “It was time for us to make a run. I think the student section knew that and we fed off of it.”
It turned out to be an unforgettable Senior Night moment, and it was part of a decisive 18-6 run for the Cougars (21-9, 9-6) that put distance between themselves and Pepperdine (7-24, 1-15).
Traore scored 10 consecutive points for BYU during that key stretch.
“When AB (Barcello) did that, Fouss turned to AB and was like, ‘If you want to put this away, then get me the ball every single time,’” joked coach Mark Pope.
“I was so hyped,” Traore said.
Barcello explained that borrowing Lillard’s trademark move was something that wasn’t planned. It came organically.
“It was incredible. I didn’t walk into tonight hunting for anything like that. When you’re really invested in the game and you lose yourself in the team, moments like that happen,” he said.
“That’s what coach Pope has preached to me ever since I got here. You’ve got to sacrifice certain things and the game rewards you. I didn’t have the greatest shooting night (4 of 11 for 10 points), but I had a moment like that and I wanted to share it with the fans and show them love because the energy they bring, we feed off of that. … It was an incredible feeling.”
Also part of that run was senior Te’Jon Lucas’ beautiful alley-oop pass to Caleb Lohner for a rim-rocking dunk that got the crowd on its feet again.
Lucas finished with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting, and four assists. Gideon George added 11 points.
But, in many ways, this night belonged to Traore, the freshman from Mali, who also had three assists and two blocks.
“He doesn’t know how good he is. This school is lucky. The coaches are lucky to have a guy like Fouss who’s so willing to learn,” Barcello said. “He’s got so much raw talent. When you put that together with his work ethic … it’s incredible.”
“Do you see this monster game Fouss had?” Lucas said. “Twenty-five and 19. That’s absurd for a freshman to get 25 points, 19 rebounds on 9 of 10 shooting.”
Traore scored 14 of his 25 points over the final 10 minutes.
“I appreciate how much the coaches believe in me,” said Traore, who was sidelined for the game at Pepperdine two weeks ago due to injury. He made up for lost time.
Traore also paid tribute to the seniors.
“Today was a special day for our seniors, AB and Te’Jon. We’re going to miss those guys,” he said. “They’ve been helping us, especially me and Atiki. I’m just grateful for them. I’m happy and thankful for the crowd. I don’t think you can find that anywhere. I’m really grateful that I’m here, to be part of this program.”
With the game finally in hand, there was still some drama in the closing minute.
With 28.5 seconds remaining, Pope inserted his two other seniors, Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter, into the game.
Harward hasn’t played this season due to a heart condition while Baxter suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 1.
They were on the floor only briefly, long enough for Harward to attempt a shot and for both of them to be cheered by the crowd one last time.
“I just thought it would be nice to let them step out onto the floor,” Pope said. “We did it with Dalton (Nixon) a couple of years ago. Those guys hadn’t been in a uniform in a while. … I’m super happy for those guys because they’ve meant so much for our program. It’s been really hard for them this year but they’re part of who we are.”
“It was cool to see that happen, given the roller-coaster that they’ve been on,” Barcello said of Harward and Baxter. “Them getting to step on the floor one more time with fans, I hope it was special to them. I think it was. It was really special for me, a guy that’s been with them through their journey. I’m glad they were able to do that.”
Barcello was asked how he wanted to be remembered at BYU.
“For my legacy, I just want to be known as a guy that gave it his all every time he stepped onto the floor; a guy who was willing to do everything that the team needed, whether it was scoring, rebounding or locking up one of their best offensive players; whether that’s communicating to guys on the court and leading them. Whatever I had to do.”
In other words, just like what he did at the Marriott Center for Senior Night.
“I’m always going hold this place in a special place in my heart,” he said.
BYU secured the No. 5 seed for next week’s West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. The Cougars will play Friday night at Orleans Arena against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 Pacific and No. 9 Loyola Marymount.
As of Saturday night, Pope and his coaching staff were still looking into the possibility of scheduling a Quad 1 game on the road for Tuesday or Wednesday prior to the WCC Tournament to enhance the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament resume.
TIP-INS: Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette attended Saturday’s game with his daughter, Wesley. … The four seniors and their families were honored in a pregame ceremony. ... After the game, Barcello said that he and his fiancee, Zoe Simpson, are getting married in July. … Harward was wearing a bandage on his nose because he recently had nasal passage surgery, according to Pope.