Analysis: BYU’s win over Kansas State proves nothing comes easy for the Cougars in the Big 12 — ever
BYU led 64-48 with under six minutes remaining, then withstood a furious KSU comeback to improve to 5-5 in the Big 12
The good news for No. 21 BYU on Saturday night was that the Cougars evened their Big 12 record to 5-5 and most likely held on to their national ranking with a 72-66 win over the visiting Kansas State Wildcats in front of 17,446 thoroughly entertained fans at the Marriott Center.
The more sobering news, for those who continue to wonder just how good this team really is, is that the Cougars almost gave away another big second-half lead, shot free throws like they didn’t want to get their 17th overall win and most likely wouldn’t have won this game in any other Big 12 venue.
“I actually loved the finish of the game. I think it will help our guys’ confidence grow in the sense of like, just keep pushing forward.” — BYU coach Mark Pope.
“We pulled through, got the (win), so that is all that matters,” said senior wing Jaxson Robinson, who emerged as the hero of the night by making a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left that saved the Cougars from blowing a 17-point second half lead.
Robinson is right. Big 12 wins are so hard to come by that nobody even thinks about throwing one back.
Even No. 5 Kansas, which now has four losses to teams that league newcomer BYU — picked 13th when the season began — has defeated: UCF, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State.
“I actually loved the finish of the game,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “I think it will help our guys’ confidence grow in the sense of like, just keep pushing forward.”
Speaking of confidence, leading scorer Robinson just might have found the confidence he will need down the stretch if BYU (5-5, 17-6) hopes to stay a viable candidate for the Big Dance.
With the wheels almost completely off BYU’s offensive machine after K-State had trimmed 17- and 16-point deficits four minutes apart to two, 66-64, with just under a minute left, Robinson’s 3-pointer made it a two-score game, and the Cougars held on, saving themselves from some big-time embarrassment.
“It was just kind of a stagger screen. I came off, was just aggressive looking for my shot. I just let it go and it went in,” Robinson said of the biggest shot of his BYU career.
“It wasn’t the catch that any shooter would want, but I mean, Dallin (Hall) got it to me and that is all that matters. I knocked it down.”
Robinson’s make was BYU’s eighth 3-pointer of the night, and was the home team’s first field goal since Noah Waterman made a triple with 5:58 remaining that gave BYU a 64-48 lead.
In between those triples, KSU’s Arthur Kaluma (18 points) took over the game and had the MC crowd scratching its collective head in disbelief.
Were the Cougars really going to blow another big second-half lead? After all, they have led in the second half of four of their five Big 12 losses, the setback at home to No. 5 Houston the only exception.
Kaluma — the same guy who torched BYU for 27 points when he played for Creighton last year, an 83-80 BYU win — returned to the game after Fouss Traore stepped on his foot five minutes into the second half and hit a 3-pointer with 1:11 left to cut BYU’s lead to two.
“We said it was going to be a 15-round prize fight,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “No matter the lead they get … they let you back in with the way they play.”
The tide turned when Trevin Knell was whistled for an offensive foul while driving to the hoop and BYU leading 64-50.
After a review, officials ruled it a flagrant 1 foul, and Tylor Perry’s two free throws with 5:34 left cut into BYU’s lead.
Waterman missed open 3-point shots on back-to-back trips, then Traore missed a free throw and Spencer Johnson missed a layup.
Hall and Traore made 2 of 4 free throws with under three minutes left, and the KSU comeback was on.
“I liked everything we got. I thought the guys did an unbelievable job getting to the free-throw line. I thought we had at least three really beautiful, earned wide-open looks from the 3-point line,” Pope said.
“So we kinda got to the rim the way we wanted to. We got shots we wanted. I liked us offensively. You are going to go through little spells where things don’t go in, and that is why you win games defensively, and that is why, like, win, lose or draw, we are trying to keep going straightforward.”
Speaking of defense, Hall drew an offensive foul with 2:44 left that proved to be big.
After Robinson’s big 3-pointer, Kaluma scored on a layup with 37 seconds left. However, Johnson’s driving layup with 13 seconds left and his free throw with five seconds left sealed it.
Johnson’s free throw drew a bit of a Bronx cheer from the BYU crowd, because if the Cougars had lost, the main culprit would have been missed free throws.
Lots and lots of missed free throws.
The Cougars finished 10 of 21 from the line; Had they made five or six more, there would have been no KSU comeback.
“It was a gritty win,” said Robinson, who came off the bench, as he had been doing before Knell sustained a foot injury in the win at UCF.
Robinson and Johnson finished with 12 apiece, while Traore led the Cougars with 14 off the bench.
Big man Aly Khalifa got the start after being sick for the past two weeks, and had six assists and just two turnovers in 19 minutes.
“Aly was six (assists) and two (turnovers). He came off eight days of bed rest and 17 quarts of vomit and he is 6 and 2,” Pope said. “Come on, how great is that? It was fun.”
Backup point guard Trey Stewart also saw his most time since he committed four turnovers in four minutes in the league-opening loss to Cincinnati, and delivered a nice game.
He finished with four points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist in nine minutes.
“I was really proud of Trey. He has been increasingly bringing unbelievable energy to our practices and our locker room and playing great in practice, been working hard, and his minutes were really, really important tonight,” Pope said.
“He played a huge role in this win and I am really proud of him and happy for him. It is awesome to watch guys grow, man, it really is. It is pretty special to watch guys grow.”
The Cougars built a 36-27 lead at halftime, thanks to taking care of the ball reasonably well and Kansas State’s propensity to turn it over. The Wildcats finished with 16 turnovers, which BYU turned into 14 points.
“We only had 16 turnovers,” Tang said, tongue in cheek. “That’s actually low for us. … We need to do better.”
And BYU needs to be better at closing out games.