Aside from the Cougars’ 3-point shooting, not much separated No. 22 BYU and resurgent West Virginia statistically in the Cougars’ 86-73 victory Saturday night at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown.
Both teams had 35 rebounds. Both teams committed 13 fouls. Both teams made nine free throws. Both teams attempted 66 shots. West Virginia committed nine turnovers, BYU eight. BYU had 38 points in the paint, WVU 36.
“Richie is all-in, not only to what we do on the floor, but to our identity and our culture. He’s the first guy in the gym, one of the last guys out. He really handles his business and so just what he provides to our team as far as our culture and how that translates to the floor is huge.” — BYU guard Dallin Hall.
The Cougars (4-4, 16-5) made five more 3-pointers (13-8) and shot 48.5% from the field, compared to 42.4% for the home team.
Another key separator was the play from the reserves.
Led by Richie Saunders’ 17 points and nine from Trevin Knell, BYU’s bench outscored WVU’s bench 27-16. That was an important turn of events for the Cougars since starting post player Aly Khalifa didn’t make the trip due to illness and injury and starting power forward Noah Waterman was ill and not able to score in 16 minutes of action.
Saunders and Knell both made 3-pointers late in the second half that WVU coach Josh Eilert called “miraculous” in his postgame news conference. Saunders’ fourth triple of the day banked from the top of the key to beat the shot clock, while Knell hit an off-balance trey shot from his hip while being fouled.
Coach Mark Pope shortened his rotation to eight players, with center Atiki Ally Atiki logging eight minutes off the bench to spell player-of-the-game Fousseyni Traore. Atiki scored just one point and committed three turnovers, but he did draw two fouls on WVU star Jesse Edwards that forced the 6-11 Syracuse transfer to the bench late in the first half.
After scoring eight points and handing out a career-high 12 assists, with just one turnover, sophomore guard Dallin Hall said BYU’s bench “is crucial to what we do,” and especially credited Saunders for playing well night after night.
“Richie is all-in, not only to what we do on the floor, but to our identity and our culture,” Hall told the BYU Sports Radio Network. “He’s the first guy in the gym, one of the last guys out. He really handles his business and so just what he provides to our team as far as our culture and how that translates to the floor is huge. And then obviously there is nobody that works harder than Richie Saunders.”
The Cougars stayed in Morgantown Saturday night, then were scheduled to fly to Norman, Oklahoma, on Sunday. They will meet No. 23 Oklahoma on Tuesday at 6 p.m. MST at Lloyd Noble Center, although the Sooners (4-5, 16-6) probably won’t be ranked because they lost at UCF on Saturday.
Pope wasn’t sure Saturday whether Khalifa will join the Cougars in Oklahoma, or sit another game out and be available next Saturday when BYU hosts Kansas State.
He said assistant coach Collin Terry stayed back in Provo to be with Khalifa and monitor the big man’s condition “just to make sure things didn’t turn worse.”
Added Pope: “We are still holding out hope that we can somehow find a plane to take him out here.”
Khalifa was said to be ill all week — he didn’t practice all week — and he’s also battling knee soreness that has plagued him the entire season.
After the OU game, the Cougars’ schedule difficulty lessens considerably with three of their next four games at home.
“I think it is the funnest league in the country to play in. Like, every night is an opportunity. Our coaches do a fantastic job of providing the scout. Like, we cannot thank them and speak highly enough of what they do and their preparation,” Hall said. “They really put us in positions to go out and perform and succeed.”
After Saturday’s win, BYU dropped from No. 6 to No. 7 in the NET rankings (WVU was considered a Quad 3 win) and stayed at No. 9 in Kenpom.com.
Oklahoma dropped from No. 27 to No. 31 in the NET after the loss at UCF, but a Cougars’ victory in Norman would still be considered a Quad 1 win. Sunday, Kenpom.com had BYU as a 1-point favorite in Tuesday’s contest.