BYU’s win over UCF was a unicorn event.

The Cougars held on for a 90-88 victory over UCF Tuesday night but they had to make a million free throws after laying down on defense in the second half. 

BYU allowed the Knights 62 second-half points after they managed just 26 in the first half.  UCF scored four more points in the second half Tuesday in the Marriott Center than it did the entire game in a loss to BYU in Orlando.

That’s just nuts.

You could look at many keys to this Big 12 home win for Mark Pope’s team, but one factor stands out. 

Aside from a school-tying 40 free throws made by the Cougars, you’ll have to give the game ball to point guard Dallin Hall.

“Dallin was impressive,” said head coach Mark Pope, whose team has now swept UCF, a team with a roster pretty much opposite of the one the Cougars put on the court.

This was a trap game for the Cougars. UCF was longer, quicker, more athletic and hungry for a win.

UCF relentlessly attacked BYU’s slower defenders, forcing one-on-one situations. Darius Johnson and Jaylin Sellers put their heads down and floored it inside the key. They looked like frenzied bulls going after matador capes, which was BYU’s second-half defense.

Then, the Knights rained down 3s like they’d never shown before in the final two minutes.

But it was Hall’s stout play that won it for the Cougars.

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Oh, sure, Jaxson Robinson was golden at the free-throw line in crunch time, but Hall took this game in his hands in the second half when UCF deployed a pesky press that at one point forced six BYU turnovers in nine possessions.

Hall, who really looked like he was out of it in the first 10 minutes of the game, sat out for a long stretch early.

Then he simply killed UCF after the Knights ripped off a 12-0 run in just 1:47 to overcome a 19-point deficit when BYU led 48-29 with just over 17 minutes to play.

This was important because BYU has a bad habit of losing big leads in the Big 12. The Cougars lost to Texas Tech by giving up 53 points in the second half and lost to Baylor and Oklahoma by giving up 48. The Cougars gave up 34 points after intermission to Houston.

Hall hit a 3-point shot, drove in the lane for a layup on the next possession, drew a foul and made the free throw to solidify a 10-point lead.

He then added another layup, penetrated UCF’s defense and kicked to the corner where Robinson buried a bomb to put the Cougars up 72-61.

Hall’s up-and-under field goal gave BYU a comfortable 74-65 lead with 3:34 to play in the game.

This is when UCF got hot. In fact, the Knights got scalding hot, making four treys (they only made six all night), forcing Robinson to make nine free throws as BYU held on for the win. 

No team has made 50% of its field goals against the Cougars all year until this night.

Had Hall not made any of those key buckets or that assist to Robinson in the corner for his key trey, BYU could have added this one to its list of other games that got away because of a second-half collapse.

“We got tentative and coach kept telling us to keep being aggressive out there and keep attacking,” said Robinson. 

Added Trevin Knell: “That team threw us their best punch and our team showed its true colors by responding.”

And Pope: “We were on our heels and we don’t want to play that way.”

Hall entered the game and patiently handled the pressure, dribbling the ball with skill and acumen. When he penetrated UCF’s defense, he was under control. He saw the defense, attacked what weakness he saw and UCF could not disrupt him.

Hall’s numbers were not eye-popping but they didn’t tell the entire story of what he meant to his team in this game.  

His teammates were giving the ball away like free Friday fries at McDonalds. It was a costly breakdown before an aggressive UCF defense. The 17 turnovers — nearly twice BYU’s season average — should have cost BYU the game. 

Hall, on the other hand, scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He was 1 of 3 from distance. He had five rebounds, five assists and, underline this one, just one turnover against a team that was feasting on his mates when they tried to pass or even dribble.

Hall simply kept being aggressive. He met UCF’s elite aggression with his bullish attack at the matador capes. 

And kept making plays.

Game ball to Hall.

Then, somebody find another one for Robinson.

BYU guard Jaxson Robinson gets fouled by UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Robinson was clutch from the free-throw line down the stretch to preserve the Cougars’ victory over the Knights. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News