On Thanksgiving Eve, in the 2020-21 season opener, BYU fans feasted their eyes on a veritable cornucopia of newcomers and the future of Cougar basketball.
And that didn’t even include the much-anticipated debut of 7-foot-3 grad transfer Matt Haarms, who didn’t play, having been sidelined with a minor ankle injury earlier this week.
Only a scant number of fans were allowed inside the otherwise empty Marriott Center, but BYU showed off its depth and served up an impressive performance in a dominating 108-59 win over Division II foe Westminster Wednesday night.
“It was fun. It’s a lot of energy. Everyone’s ready to come in. I think we were all sick of two-a-days,” said senior guard Alex Barcello, who poured in a career-high 25 points. “We wanted to play in an actual game. These guys are ready to go. We have a lot of talent and a lot of young guys that are trying to learn our system, but the energy that these guys bring is unbelievable.”
The Cougars, who led the nation in 3-point shooting last season, picked up where they left off, tying a school record and setting a Marriott Center record with 18 treys.
Could this be an even better 3-point shooting team than last year?
“No doubt in my mind,” Barcello said. “We have the potential to get there.”
Ten different players hit a 3 against the Griffins, which is a school record. BYU had never previously had more than seven players make 3-pointers in a game.
Barcello attributed the 18 of 39 shooting from 3-point range to making solid passes and finding the open man.
“This is a very unselfish team,” Barcello said. “That’s a big deal for us.”
Coach Mark Pope cautioned that his team probably won’t be this prolific from 3 on a regular basis.
“I don’t anticipate us making 18 3s a night. I expect us to be a really good 3-point shooting team because of how we approach it,” he said. “The best things the guys did tonight was to own their shots and they worked really hard to earn their teammates shots. That’s been a good recipe for us.”
BYU (1-0) shot 39 3-pointers and 32 2-pointers.
Leading the way were Barcello and BYU’s other senior guard, Brandon Averette, who scored 15 points. Averette and Barcello knocked down 3 3-pointers each.
“They have a chance to be really good as a tandem in the backcourt. They really shared the ball today,” Pope said. “They tried to put pressure in transition the whole night long. As a tandem, they were 16 of 27 from the field, which is absolutely fantastic.”
Barcello said he loves playing with Averette, a grad transfer from Utah Valley University.
“He’s such a great teammate. He puts in the work,” Barcello said. “It’s fun to play with a teammate that loves the game as much as you do. We’re going to push it as fast as we can up the court and make the right play.”
Averette said he was “a little nervous” coming into the game, but it didn’t show, as he hit a 3-pointer about 30 seconds into the contest — BYU’s first points of the season.
“I was ready to show what our team has,” Averette said. “We did really well.”
In all, 14 BYU players saw action Wednesday, with 13 scoring points. Eight Cougars made their BYU debuts — Averette, Caleb Lohner (5 points), Gideon George (6), Jesse Wade (3), Spencer Johnson (10), Richard Harward (4), Wyatt Lowell (5) and Hunter Erickson (3).
Gavin Baxter scored 11 points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds while Kolby Lee recorded a career-high seven assists to go along with five points and three rebounds.
“Kolby got us off to a really good start with a couple of offensive rebounds and five early points,” Pope said.
With so much depth up and down the roster, it will be interesting to see how Pope handles his rotations. He said it’s a challenge trying to develop so many young players at once.
“It’s a beautiful problem to have, for sure,” Pope said.
Against Westminster, BYU led by as many as 55 points. The Cougars hit 10 3-pointers in the first half.
Westminster was led by Reme Torbert, who scored a team-high 16 points.
Pope was pleased with his team giving up only six turnovers, which he called “shocking,” and he liked the effort on the glass with 43 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards.
BYU’s rebounding should be bolstered when Haarms is able to play. Pope said Haarms will be re-evaluated in the morning and that he’ll be a game-time decision when the Cougars host New Orleans Thursday night (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv).
The Marriott Center had an NBA bubble vibe Wednesday, with chairs on both teams’ benches socially distanced and video boards featuring virtual fans.
Pope and BYU administrators worked hard for the past few weeks to try to create a spirited atmosphere despite a minimal number of fans being allowed inside the Marriott Center, and Pope’s deep and talented team didn’t disappoint those Cougar fans watching the season opener.