From afar, Wednesday night’s nonconference affair at the Marriott Center had the makings of one of those nail-biters the BYU Cougars experienced far too often last year.
BYU was coming off a highly emotional win over rival San Diego State, while Southeastern Louisiana was coming in with plenty of confidence after having pushed the Southeastern Conference’s Auburn in Alabama.
“I feel like especially on the offensive glass, rebounding, we killed them. So that was big-time.” BYU forward Fousseyni Traore
The Cougars played one of their best games in years — statistically speaking — and ran the visitors out of the gym in front of 13,116 fans with apparently nothing better to do, taking a easy-as-it-looks 105-48 win over the Lions, who never really got on track.
“We have a group that is playing really well together,” coach Mark Pope said.
Southeastern Louisiana is picked to win the Southland Conference and threw a good scare into Auburn, trailing by just seven points with seven minutes remaining before losing 86-71 last Friday. SLU opened its season with a 90-71 rout of Delta State.
Despite being 22-point underdogs, the Lions were supposed to give BYU (3-0) a decent test before the Cougars host Morgan State on Saturday and then head to Las Vegas to take on Arizona State in the Vegas Showdown.
But BYU jumped out to a 38-6 lead and cruised the rest of the way. The only suspense after halftime was whether the Cougars could break 100.
That happened with 1:32 left when walk-on Jared McGregor hit a 3-pointer to give BYU a 102-46 lead. Other big roars from the crowd came when Dallin Hall found Atiki Ally Atiki for a lob dunk with 3:10 left.
The Cougars moved up to No. 16 in KenPom with the win, fourth-highest currently in the Big 12, jumping from No. 27. The Lions (1-2) were No. 211 before tipoff, but head off to Santa Clara now wondering what they got themselves into in the paycheck game.
The easy win left Pope wondering how to evaluate it, as is often the case in these early season buy games.
“I know a bunch of numbers we were super excited about, a bunch of statistical numbers,” Pope said. “The thing I was most excited about is we had a really emotional game on Friday (beating No. 17 SDSU 74-65). We had an opponent that is picked to win their conference, but certainly didn’t come in here with the cachet that San Diego State did. And there is this human nature of a letdown.”
Pope said team leaders such as Spencer Johnson, Fouss Traore and Trevin Knell wouldn’t let it happen.
“They said we are going to take this (game) incredibly seriously. We are going to first priority win this game. And second priority, get better in this game.”
Knell and Traore led the Cougars with 18 points apiece, while Jaxson Robinson added 17.
The Cougars raced out to a 35-point halftime lead and were never threatened.
Pope said the first 12 minutes of the game BYU’s defense was “elite level.”
Southeastern Louisiana was just 5 of 25 from the field and 0 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half, while committing seven turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Cougars were 8 of 20 from 3-point range and had just two turnovers — both giveaways from offensive charging calls.
“I feel like especially on the offensive glass, rebounding, we killed them,” Traore said. “So that was big-time.”
The Cougars won the first-half rebounding battle 28-14 and finished with a 52-edge on the glass.
“He is going to help us big-time,” Traore said of Knell, who was 7 of 12 from the field and 4 of 8 from deep, after having missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
Speaking of injuries, the Cougars played without Charlotte transfer Aly Khalifa and UC Irvine transfer Dawson Baker.
Pope said Khalifa “is trying to get healthy. He is working really hard. He had a good day of work today. We will kinda see what progress he makes.”
Regarding Baker, who averaged 15 points a game last year before having offseason foot surgery, the high-scorer met with doctors on Monday and “got some pretty good news,” Pope said.
“So he has been been able to start his RTP (return to play) protocol,” Pope continued. “We will see how the next couple of weeks go, but we are hopeful to have him floating around here maybe on the court sometime in December would be ideal for us.”
Roger McFarlane led the Lions with 14 points, while Idaho native Brody Rowbury added 13.