What’s at stake in BYU’s NIT quarterfinal matchup against Washington State
The No. 2-seeded Cougars have maximized their postseason opportunity, setting the stage for Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas to have one more game at the Marriott Center.
As recently as a few weeks ago, BYU senior guards Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas didn’t want to play any more games at the Marriott Center.
That’s because after a Senior Night victory over Pepperdine on Feb. 26, Barcello and Lucas were hoping the Cougars would end up in the NCAA Tournament, a goal they had set their sights on for months.
But after falling short of an NCAA Tournament bid, BYU accepted an NIT berth.
So far, the No. 2-seeded Cougars have maximized this postseason opportunity with home wins over Long Beach State and Northern Iowa.
That has set the stage for Barcello and Lucas to have a final game at the Marriott Center —with a lot at stake.
BYU hosts No. 4-seeded Washington State Wednesday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) in the NIT quarterfinals.
Washington State (21-14)
at BYU (24-10)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. MDT
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
Hanging in the balance? A trip to New York City’s venerable Madison Square Garden.
The winner of the BYU-Washington State game will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Texas A&M and Wake Forest in the NIT semifinals on March 29 at MSG.
No doubt, Barcello and his teammates have played with a sense of urgency and a sense of motivation during this NIT run.
On top of that, in last Saturday’s 90-71 win over Northern Iowa, Barcello moved up to 25th on the all-time scoring list by scoring 11 points. He has accumulated 1,307 points during his BYU career.
Before the WCC tournament, BYU coach Mark Pope said Barcello had already made his mark on BYU basketball history.
“He’s had so many signature moments already … I just want our seniors to have another shot at what they’ve worked so hard for, which is the WCC tournament and postseason play after that. Alex Barcello, what he’s done … is extraordinary,” he said. “What he’s done in terms of how he’s shot the ball, how he’s grown and become this confident leader and handled the highest-pressure situations and the biggest adversities.
“ … I’m not intimately familiar with the history of BYU basketball and how the numbers stack up, but in terms of what this is ultimately really about, connecting with our fan base and about growing as a human being, it’s hard to imagine guys that have done that more when they’ve been here.
“We’re all searching for a storybook ending,” he continued. “The storybook ending is clear what it would be in this WCC tournament and in a national tournament. In some sense, he’s already written a storybook ending. … He’s done so much for this program and this community and this university. My biggest goal is to make it last as long as it can.”
Can the season continue next week in New York City? First, BYU (24-11) must get past a tough Washington State (21-14) team.
Kyle Smith is in his third season as WSU’s head coach. Previously, Smith spent three seasons at San Francisco, where he posted a 2-4 record against BYU.
Washington State guard Michael Flowers averages a team-high 14.1 points and a team-high 3.4 assists per game. The senior is hitting 40% of his shots from the floor and 37.5% from 3-point range.
Guard Tyrell Roberts averages 11.3 points per game and the Cougars have two 6-foot-10 sophomores, Efe Abogidi and Dishon Jackson. Abogidi averages 8.1 points, a team-high 5.7 rebounds and a team-high 1.8 blocks per game.
Washington State advanced to the quarterfinals by beating SMU 75-63 on the road Sunday. The Cougars built a 19-point halftime lead and held on for the win. WSU also snapped the Mustangs’ 19-game homecourt winning streak.
“Great win for our program, probably our biggest win, period,” Smith said. “To beat a team on their home floor, where they’d won 19 in a row. … We knew they’d have a big punch at us in the second half and we were able to persevere — something we hadn’t been able to do early in the year.”
SMU guard Kendric Davis, the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year, scored 30 points in a losing effort against WSU.
“We were able to fight and claw our way back. It was one of those days. They made big shots down the stretch,” Davis said about Washington State. “They just kept us away and you gotta tip your hat to them. Nobody had beat us in this building and they did.”
Washington State won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere at the Marriott Center.
“They’re a really good team. They took it to SMU in the first half,” BYU guard Trevin Knell told “BYU Sports Nation” on Monday. “They have these two centers and they have two guards that are super quick. For me, it reminds me of San Francisco.”
BYU fell to USF in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals and they also lost to the Dons 73-59 in Provo on Feb 3.
The Cougars are grateful for the fan support they’ve received in the NIT. A crowd of 5,511 showed up for the Long Beach State game and 7,554 turned out against UNI.
“We had 5,000 fans the other night and it felt like a full gym,” said Knell, who nailed a career-best five 3-pointers against UNI. “Halfway through the game, all of the sudden, we couldn’t hear coach Pope calling plays. You couldn’t hear anybody talking on the floor. The people that want to be there, want to be there.”
Added Knell: “Now we know this is our last home game. Everybody knows it. How cool would it be to fill the gym for (the final home game) for Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas?”
Against Northern Iowa last Saturday, BYU forward Gideon George scored a career-high 27 points. He hit 9 of 15 shots from the floor, including 5 of 9 from 3-point territory. It marked the fourth-most points scored by a BYU player in an NIT game.
On Wednesday, once again, the season comes down to one more game.
“We want to go to New York. We’ve got 40 minutes. That’s what coach Pope texted us (Sunday night) — 40 minutes, that’s all it is. Forty minutes,” Knell said. “One more home game, 40 minutes, and we go to New York. It’s a dream of ours. We feel like we deserve to be there. We deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve got an edge.”