Just when it looked like BYU might blow a 17-point second half lead — which was melting like a snowman in the San Diego sun — and ruin its opportunity to beat a ranked team on the road, guard Brandon Averette delivered the shot of the season so far for the Cougars.

Averette’s rainbow 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining was part of an 11-1 run to end the game for BYU, which knocked off No. 18 San Diego State Friday afternoon, 72-62, at an empty Viejas Arena. 

SDSU’s famed “The Show” student section was not allowed inside due to pandemic protocols. BYU coach Mark Pope was very aware of The Show’s conspicuous absence. 

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“Can’t you just hear the gym?” he said on his postgame show on BYU Radio. “(The Aztecs are) coming back, people are tearing their clothes off and going crazy, on fire, then Brandon Averette bangs that 3 and the place goes deathly silent. That’s how it felt when he shot it.”

After Averette’s 3-pointer, which put the Cougars up 66-62, they nailed six straight free throws as they scored the game’s final nine points.

Certainly, it was a marquee win for BYU (7-2), one that could loom large in March on its NCAA Tournament resume. 

“This team may not lose another game this season, that’s how good they are,” Pope told CBS Sports about the Aztecs (5-1).

The victory also snapped a four-game losing streak to SDSU, dating back to 2011, when No. 7 BYU defeated No. 6 San Diego State, also at Viejas Arena. 

Alex Barcello scored a game-high 22 for the Cougars to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists and 7 of 11 shooting from the floor. Averette finished with 10 points, all of which came in the second half. 

The Cougars were in control almost from the outset. They trailed only once, 5-4, just minutes into the game. 

But it almost turned into a heartbreaking outcome for BYU, reminiscent of last year, when the Cougars led SDSU by nine in the second half before watching the Aztecs drill a flurry of 3-pointers as BYU fell 76-71 at the Marriott Center.

“We were expecting them to go on a run because they’re such a good team. We knew they weren’t going to give up easily. We did a great job of handling everything tonight.” — BYU’s Brandon Averette

On Friday, senior forward Matt Mitchell inflicted most of the damage for SDSU, scoring a career-high 35 points, going 12 of 17 from the floor and 5 of 9 from 3-point range. He almost singlehandedly willed the Aztecs back into the game. 

The Aztecs trailed 37-20 early in the second half but methodically chipped away at the deficit. BYU managed to push its lead to double digits with five minutes remaining. The Cougars led 61-47 before SDSU scored 14 unanswered points, capped by a steal and a thunderous dunk by Mitchell to tie the game at 61-apiece at the 1:56 mark. 

During that stretch, the Aztecs drilled four straight 3-pointers, including three by Mitchell. 

“We were expecting them to go on a run because they’re such a good team,” Averette said. “We knew they weren’t going to give up easily. We did a great job of handling everything tonight.”

Later, with 1:11 left, Mitchell hit a free throw to cut the deficit to 63-62 and SDSU had all the momentum. BYU was wondering what had happened. Was it about to lose again to the Aztecs?

But the Cougars refused to fold. 

Pope credited his players’ defense for limiting SDSU to 37% shooting from the floor. 

“All those guys, such a great effort on the defensive end of the floor,” he said. “It was special.”

The man that Pope was most concerned about going into the game was Jordan Schakel, who scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers in the second half, including four in the final six minutes in last year’s loss. 

On Friday, Schakel, who entered the night averaging 15 points per game, was 1 of 9 from the field and finished with three points. 

Pope praised the defensive effort of Spencer Johnson on Schakel.

“You think about the all-time leading 3-point shooter in the history of San Diego State basketball and I put Spencer out there and I actually forget about Schakel,” he said. “Take him off the board. I don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

Meanwhile, BYU’s 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms made things tough on the Aztecs as well. 

“Matt Haarms was 10 (points) and eight (rebounds) tonight. But his impact was like 50 with his rim protection,” Pope said. “He’s so long and nobody wanted any piece of it.”

And what about rebounding? 

A year ago, the Aztecs outrebounded BYU 43-27, including 15-4 on the offensive boards. On Friday, the Cougars turned the tables, outrebounding SDSU 40-26, including 14-11 on the offensive end. 

“We’re such a different team than last year,” Pope said. “We absolutely dominate the glass on maybe one of the top five rebounding teams in the country.” 

BYU had 11 second-chance points compared to SDSU’s four. The Cougars’ bench outscored the Aztecs 22-11 and they outscored them in the paint, 30-20. 

In the end, Averette’s heroics helped lift BYU to an improbable upset. 

“I feel like sometimes I just stay in the game,” he said. “I missed shots early but I didn’t worry about it. I focused on what I needed to do on the defensive end. Shots came for me … and I shot it with confidence.” 

Too bad The Show wasn’t there to witness Averette’s huge 3-pointer in person.

BYU hosts Texas Southern Monday.