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Cougars have ‘some soul-searching to do’ after lopsided loss to USC

BYU, which led the nation in 3-point shooting last season, and was among the best so far this season, shot an abysmal 23% (7 of 30) from 3-point range. Overall, the Cougars shot 19 of 69 from the floor, an ice-cold 27.5%.

BYU’s Matt Haarms, top left, and Southern California’s Evan Mobley, top right, fight for a rebound in during game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Uncasville, Conn.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

An undefeated BYU team traveled all the way to the East Coast to challenge itself with a big, early-season test against USC.

But the Cougars forgot to pack their 3-point shooting. Or any shooting at all.

As it turned out, BYU was overwhelmed and outmatched by the Trojans, 79-53, at Mohegan Sun Arena in the Roman Legends Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut, Tuesday afternoon.

BYU, which led the nation in 3-point shooting last season, and was among the best so far this season, shot an abysmal 23% (7 of 30) from 3-point range. Overall, the Cougars shot 19 of 69 from the floor, an ice-cold 27.5%.

USC, on the other hand, shot 53% from the field, including 61% in the second half.

After three double-digit wins at home last week, reality sunk in for BYU on Tuesday.

“Super disappointing. It’s not just a loss. It’s a real gut-check and a reality check. It’s a test to see who we are,” said Cougar coach Mark Pope. “We got exposed in a bunch of ways today. In really awful ways.”

BYU dropped to 3-1 on the season, while USC improved to 3-0.

Tuesday’s matchup was supposed to be a chance for the Cougars to begin building their NCAA Tournament resume. This 26-point setback had an immediate impact on BYU’s national status — in the wrong direction. According to kenpom.com’s rankings, BYU plummeted from No. 79 to No. 94 immediately after the loss.

Pope put the blame on himself.

“An awful performance as a head coach. I didn’t help my team at all. That can never, ever ever happen as a basketball team,” he said. “We’ve got some soul-searching to do tonight and figure out who we are. We’re playing this schedule, we put these guys in a really, really difficult circumstance, no doubt about it, to find out who we are. We’ve got to find out who we are. Incredibly disappointed and curious and determined to see if we can figure this out and respond in the right way.”

The Cougars won’t have to wait long for their chance to respond. They take on St. John’s at Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday (3 p.m., MST, ESPN2).

BYU actually led USC 18-17 with 8:39 left in the first half. From there, it was a precipitous fall for the Cougars, with shot after shot after shot failing to find the net.

In short, little went right for BYU over the final 28 minutes of play.

The Cougars finished the first half making just one of their final 19 field goal attempts and it failed to score over the final 4:49 of the half.

USC, meanwhile, ended the half on a 14-2 run. BYU went just 9 for 37 from the field (24%) and 2 for 16 from 3-point territory (12.5%) in the first half.

Still, the Cougars trailed by only 11 points, 31-20, at intermission.

Unfortunately for BYU, things got even worse as that deficit kept growing. The Cougars trailed by as many as 30 (79-49) late in the contest.

BYU had used its superior size and depth to its advantage during its three wins last week. But USC, which has plenty of size, length and athleticism, proved to be on a much different level as an opponent.

The Trojans were led by their formidable frontcourt stars, brothers Evan and Isaiah Mobley. Evan, a 7-foot freshman, scored 17 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Isaiah, a 6-11 sophomore, finished with 11 points and 11 boards.

But the Cougars probably weren’t expecting a game-high 19 points from USC guard Drew Peterson. Meanwhile, Santa Clara transfer Tahj Eaddy added 16 points for the Trojans.

“I know USC is a good team. They have length,” Pope said. “We didn’t feel right from the get-go. We were a little stagnant. We just couldn’t get ourselves to go. That is incredibly disappointing.”

One of the many questions for BYU is, was this game an aberration — chalked up to a bad shooting game — or are there deeper issues that this team needs to resolve?

In the short term, will the Cougars be able to bounce back against St. John’s?

“We’re going to find out. It’s going to be a miserable night. It’s the process and you have to go through the process. We’re going to see who we are,” Pope said. “The whole world is going to see who we are tomorrow. We’re going to find out for ourselves. One of the great things about sports is when you have a historically awful night like this, you get a chance to go prove that it’s an anomaly and not the norm.

“We’re going to get tested tomorrow. This deal we’re walking into tomorrow is a freaking buzzsaw. There’s going to be nothing easy about it. It’s going to test us to our very core. That’s an exciting place to be. We’ve got to ring the bell. We’ll see if we can do it.”

St. John’s has beaten Saint Peter’s, LaSalle and Boston College so far this season.

For Pope and his team, it’s time to regroup and reevaluate.

“Our job to figure it out and make it better. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to respond,” he said. “We’re going to mourn and grieve … a little bit here and acknowledge that this performance for what it was and learn from it. It’s going to be really painful for the next couple of hours because it deserves to be and that’s the way it is.

“What we have to do is get constructive. That transition is really hard, it’s the key to life. It’s how you respond to the game and we’ll fix it. There’s no way we’re walking on the floor like this again tomorrow. There’s no way. It won’t happen.”