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Alex Barcello’s clutch 3 helps lift BYU Cougars to 68-64 victory over in-state rival Utah State Aggies

Forward Yoeli Childs, who finished with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, never doubted that Alex Barcello’s shot would fall.

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Utah State Aggies guard Diogo Brito (24) kicks a pass from Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (4) out of bounds during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in the Beehive Classic at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — BYU junior guard Alex Barcello wasn’t having one of his better shooting nights, but with the outcome hanging in the balance and his team needing him to hit a clutch shot, he came through. 

Finding himself alone in the corner, and with the Cougars clinging to a one-point lead, Barcello buried a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining to help lift BYU to a thrilling 68-64 victory over Utah State Saturday night at Vivint Arena in the final game of the Beehive Classic. 

“Unbelievable,” said Barcello, who had missed his previous three 3-pointers against the Aggies. “I didn’t start off the game too hot. But I love my guys, my team and my coaching staff. They pick me up and they told me to trust it and they believe in me. They knew my shots were eventually going to fall. No (defender) came out on me, so I shot the shot, knowing that my teammates believed in me and it went in. Luckily, we won the game and we’re so happy for it.”

At first, the referees credited Barcello with a 2-point basket. But during a timeout, they changed it to a 3-pointer. 

“I looked down to make sure I wasn’t (on the line),” he said, smiling. “It was a 3 for sure.”

Forward Yoeli Childs, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, never doubted that Barcello’s shot would fall. 

“I knew it was in, 100%. He’s a shooter. This dude has an unbelievable work ethic,” he said. “In the summer, we did two-a-days. We’d practice at 6 a.m. He’d be in the gym at 4:30 every single day, getting up shots and ball-handling. At the end of a game, when it’s a moment like that, you just have all the confidence in the world in him.”

While Barcello shot just 3 of 9 from the floor, he played his typical tenacious defense all game long. He helped limit USU’s leading scorer, Sam Merrill, who averages 17 points per game, to 11 points on 2 of 10 shooting, including 0 of 4 from 3-point range. 

“Time after time after time, he comes up with game-winning plays for us. He was great defensively tonight,” coach Mark Pope said of Barcello. “He made big shots. He really helped us against the 1-3-1 (zone) just by having the courage to be a little bit aggressive.”

Before Barcello’s late 3-pointer, the Cougars were leading 65-64 when they recorded a crucial stop that included Dalton Nixon’s blocked shot against Justin Bean with 56 seconds remaining and a subsequent rebound by Jake Toolson. 

For BYU (9-4), the win was its eighth in a row over the Aggies (10-2) and its 15th straight at Vivint Arena. And it was a major boost for the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament resume.

“Utah State is a great team,” Pope said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys for fighting the whole time and getting through some adversity and some stickiness and some weirdness and staying together and getting the win.”

TJ Haws got BYU off to a strong start, with 13 first-half points, including three 3-pointers as the Cougars led 35-28 at halftime. Haws ended up with 16 points, five assists and two steals. 

Childs, meanwhile scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half. 

“Teams have been trying to take me away in the post and double-team. But I’m never going to get frustrated with it because I’m going to kick it out. It’s going to be one more pass and we’re going to get wide-open shots,” Childs said. “Then once teams get frustrated and the coach is yelling, ‘We can’t give up any more 3s,’ then I’m more open in the paint. It’s a great balance and I love playing with these guys.”

It was an intense, emotional environment at Vivint Arena for the final game of the Beehive Classic, which was played in front of a boisterous crowd of 10,291. 

“It was awesome. Both fan bases were incredible,” Childs said. “The Cougs were obviously better. But Utah State fans are always great. It was a ton of fun.”

“The Utah State fans are beautifully insane and our fans are so incredibly loyal. It’s a big-time game,” Pope said. “It’s two top-50 teams playing right here at Vivint. That doesn’t happen all the time. It was a high-caliber game. It was a perfect atmosphere for this game.”

BYU hosts Weber State next Saturday.