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BYU Cougars basketball overcomes ‘frustration’ to grind out win over New Orleans

BYU’s Alex Barcello (13) drives to the basket past New Orleans’ Derek St. Hilaire (10) during the Cougars’ 86-61 win over the New Orleans Privateers at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.
Courtesy BYU photo

Unlike Wednesday’s season opener, 3-pointers weren’t dropping at a record-setting clip for BYU Thanksgiving night at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of other things vexing the Cougars, including New Orleans’ quick, aggressive style and a game that saw a disjointed pace and a total of 51 personal fouls called.

It was a struggle for the Cougars to get into any sort of rhythm.

“Super frustrating. This game of basketball can be so frustrating,” said coach Mark Pope. “It was hard to get into the flow of the game because of the whistle. It was just a mountain of frustration. I told the guys at the eight-minute media timeout that a lot of times what you’re competing against actually is frustration. I thought the guys did a really nice job managing it.”

BYU relied on its size advantage against the Privateers, controlling the paint. And in the end, the Cougars (2-0) earned a somewhat ugly 86-61 victory.

“It’s what you see with a lot of young teams going against pressure,” Pope said, whose team had 18 turnovers. “We’re going to learn a lot from this. We’re really fortunate to play two completely opposite opponents the last two nights. Just getting the different looks is going to be huge for our growth. That’s what we need to do. Clearly, we’re not close to the team we need to be or going to be. But you can see the pieces of what could become a really, really special team.”

Guard Alex Barcello scored a game-high 19 points while center Richard Harward came off the bench and recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, including seven offensive boards.

As a team, BYU out-rebounded New Orleans 54-28 and tallied 26 second-chance points.

“We managed to miss a lot of shots today,” Pope said. “The offensive glass has to become a significant part of this team. It’s really important to us.”

For the second straight night, BYU played without 7-foot-3 grad transfer Matt Haarms, who was wearing a boot on his foot due to an ankle injury.

Then late in the first half, forward Gavin Baxter sustained a knee injury and didn’t return to the game.

Haarms wore a boot on his foot due to nagging ankle injury and was kept on the sideline.

“I’m really grateful we were able to survive these two games without him,” Pope said. “I’d like to get him some practice reps before he plays.”

Baxter, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, went down while defending in the paint, grabbing his knee.

“It’s always hard to see a teammate go down,” said guard Connor Harding. “It broke my heart. As a team, we have to step up. Hopefully, he’s fine.”

Pope said Baxter will undergo an MRI.

“We’re really hopeful and praying that it’s something recoverable quickly,” Pope said of Baxter.

Speaking of frustration, the Cougars didn’t have as many open looks Thursday as they had the night before against Westminster. After knocking down 18 3-pointers in the season opener, BYU shot 10 of 27 from 3-point range against New Orleans. From the free-throw line, the Cougars hit just 8 of 21.

The Cougars enjoyed balanced scoring production as Kolby Lee and Connor Harding contributed 12 points apiece, Brandon Averette added 11, Trevin Knell chipped in 8 and Caleb Lohner finished six 6.

Lohner, who started in the second half in place of Baxter, also collected nine rebounds.

“I thought he did an unbelievable job on the glass,” Pope said of Lohner. “He was really solid defensively. I trust him. I’m excited for him to keep growing.”

As a team, BYU grabbed plenty of rebounds and had a bunch of putbacks that helped it pull away from New Orleans.

“I feel like we did pretty solid. Everyone was getting a board. I know Caleb is an absolute monster,” Harvard said. “I’m so excited to have that guy on the squad, watching how he’s able to contribute immediately. Kolby was getting rebounds. I feel like we’re such a threat when it comes to the offensive boards and the defensive boards because we have so many guys with the athleticism and the ability to go get the rebound.”

BYU is set to host Utah Valley University on Saturday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv).