If the trend continues, BYU is going to look back at its first basketball season in the wickedly difficult Big 12 and wonder what might have been if the Cougars were able to play as well in the second half in almost every game as they did in the first.

BYU has led all five of its Big 12 games at halftime, but has just a 2-3 league record. It is turning into the team that just can’t finish.

“We got a little stagnant in the second half. We got a little on our heels, the momentum (shifted) and in these buildings it is pretty special and we couldn’t quite stem the tide.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope.

The Cougars fell 85-78 to No. 25 Texas Tech on Saturday night in front of 15,098 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas, in what was a tale of two halves, once again.

They’ve blown leads of nine, 10 and, now, 16 points in the second half in their three losses — to Cincinnati, Baylor and Texas Tech — that have kept them from becoming a serious contender in the country’s best college basketball conference.

BYU coach Mark Pope called it a “gut punch” during his postgame interview with the BYU Sports Radio Network, which is starting to sound like a broken record.

On Saturday, a combination of the Cougars shooting themselves in the foot, or punching themselves in the gut, a raucous crowd at a 15,000-seat arena and the red-hot second half shooting of Tech guard Pop Isaacs was simply too much to overcome.

“We got a little stagnant in the second half. We got a little on our heels, the momentum (shifted) and in these buildings it is pretty special and we couldn’t quite stem the tide,” Pope said.

A seven-point loss on the road in the Big 12 is nothing to be ashamed about, but the way in which this one got away from the Cougars is a bit distressing.

To say that they choked is a stretch, but there is no denying that BYU looked like a totally different team in the second half than it did in the first.

The first half Cougars were poised, confident, aggressive and fearless. The second half Cougars looked scared, unsure of themselves and like they were in a hurry to hop on the charter flight back to Provo.

“There is nothing unique about our situation right now,” Pope said when asked by radio analyst Mark Durrant why the Cougars are having trouble finishing in Big 12 games.

“Every team in the league goes through this, and that is kinda what it is, and that is what we need to chalk it up to. We gotta stay focused on what we do great, and we gotta do it a little bit more, and do it more consistently. We know we have the tools.”

The Cougars lost the aggressiveness and fearlessness that helped them lead by as many as 17 points in the first half. For long stretches in the second half it appeared that nobody in blue and white wanted to take a shot. Several times the Cougars got to the rim, then spun away and threw the ball away for fear of getting it blocked.

“The guys are playing tough. We just couldn’t quite stem the tide tonight. We gotta figure out some new ways to approach it, some more decisive ways to approach it, whether that be personnel or schematically, or even just straight up matchups where we can find some better answers, and we will,” Pope said.

The No. 20 Cougars led 48-32 after a brilliant first half in which they shot 55% (18 of 33) from the field and 50% (10 of 20) from beyond the arc and had held Isaacs to a reasonable nine points.

Then they seemingly forgot they had a second half to play.

The Cougars put up just 30 points in the second half, started to turn the ball over like it was an unwanted illness and watched almost helplessly as Isaacs and his teammates finally got cooking at their end of the court. 

Isaacs finished with a career-high 32 points, setting the tone for himself and the half when he swished a 3-pointer 55 seconds into it.

BYU’s first possession of the half was also a harbinger of what was to come; Jaxson Robinson and Dallin Hall missed 3-pointers, and then Spencer Johnson threw the ball away after an offensive rebound.

That ignited a 9-0 Red Raiders run, and the home team, and its sellout crowd, was right back in it.

Hall stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer, but it was immediately answered by Isaacs with another triple and the comeback was on. 

Texas Tech overcame an 11-point halftime deficit last Saturday to beat Kansas State, so the Red Raiders could rely on that past history to know they could do it.

Similarly, the Cougars have struggled in every second half except last Tuesday in their 87-72 win over No. 24 Iowa State at the Marriott Center.

When the flood came, they panicked.

“We clearly missed some shots that we love. We got some really good stuff in the second half, and we got some stuff that ended up being a little stagnant,” Pope said.

“But mostly it was a defensive breakdown from the beginning of transition to ending up on the glass. We just couldn’t quite figure it out.”

3 keys to No. 25 Texas Tech’s 85-78 home win over No. 20 BYU
No. 20 Cougars’ toughness will be tested Saturday at No. 25 Texas Tech

BYU missed 11 of its first 13 shots to start the second half but still led 60-55 on an Aly Khalifa layup with 10:30 remaining. Khalifa scored a career-high 21 points and was about all the offense BYU had in the second half.

Starting for Noah Waterman, who was a late scratch with health issues, according to Pope, Richie Saunders had 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting. Dallin Hall added 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but also had three costly turnovers.

Actually, every BYU turnover was costly, it seemed. 

Texas Tech turned 12 BYU turnovers into 22 points. That, and Isaacs, was the story of the game.

BYU had just four points off six Texas Tech turnovers, a stat similar to what happened in Waco when Baylor fell behind by double digits but finished with just five giveaways and gradually chipped away and overcame turnover-prone BYU.

“You are going to have games like this, man. Listen, you gotta credit Pop Isaacs. That’s an incredible performance. We have to find ways to slow him down. That’s on us,” Pope said.

“There are going to be times when guys raise up and they are just really incredible, so there is a lot of learning and growing for us to do.”

Up next for BYU is No. 5 Houston, an incredible defensive team which drubbed UCF 57-42 on Saturday.

If first half BYU shows up for 40 minutes at the Marriott Center, the blue-and-white clad Cougars just might be able to give the red-and-white clad Cougars a game.