BYU has established a reputation this season for being a strong second-half team with an uncanny ability to close out games.
But that didn’t happen Wednesday afternoon at Firestone Fieldhouse. And as a result, the Cougars saw their four-game winning streak snapped by Pepperdine, 76-73.
BYU left Malibu having suffered its worst loss — a Quad 3 setback — of the Mark Pope era. It’s the first time BYU has dropped a Quad 3 game under Pope.
Going into the contest, Pepperdine was No. 152 in NET rankings with BYU sitting at No. 28. It was also the Cougars’ first road loss to the Waves since 2017.
Pope put the blame on himself.
“I’m super disappointed. It was a disgusting job coaching,” he said. “Pepperdine’s a really good team. We know that. They’re really talented and extremely well-prepared and well-coached. (Coach) Lorenzo (Romar) does a great job. And I did a poor job tonight. That’s the end result.”
The Cougars were cruising, building a game-high 11-point lead, 44-33, early in the second half after a pair of free throws by Brandon Averette.
That’s when things slowly unraveled for the Cougars.
Pepperdine’s first lead came with 12:12 left in the game, 49-48, as part of a 19-6 Wave run.
Over the final minutes, the game was tied 10 times and the lead changed hands nine times.
Pope warned after last Saturday’s 65-54 win over Pepperdine in Provo how difficult it is to beat an opponent in back-to-back games.
Whereas BYU was able to hold off a furious rally by the Waves last Saturday in Provo, this time, it was Pepperdine that made all the big plays in the waning moments.
“We didn’t function very well lineup-wise in terms of rebounding the ball down the stretch,” Pope said. “We just kind of got stymied. There are a few really basic, fundamental pillars of the game. If you don’t do them well, you’re not going to perform well. I didn’t help my guys do that very well.”
“It’s really tough to win against a Division I team back-to-back this close,” said forward Kolby Lee. “It’s really hard playing a good team like this. Very few teams do it. We should have gotten it done but we didn’t.”
One of the glaring stats Wednesday for BYU: 13 turnovers, with nine coming off steals. Those turnovers led to 11 Pepperdine points.
“I was putting my guys in bad situations. I’m putting guys in situations where they’re trying to penetrate in the gap when there is no gap. That’s a bad idea,” Pope said. “I’m getting guys post catches in the wrong position with the wrong matchup. That causes us problems. I’m pushing these guys to go in transition when we shouldn’t be. Most of that’s on me. … Turnovers were a huge issue for us. It’s super discouraging. We didn’t manage it well.”
“There were a lot of times where we weren’t making the right pass or they would double-team you and we weren’t making the simple plays we make every game,” Lee said.
Lee also pointed to his team’s rebounding struggles.
The smaller Waves grabbed the same number of rebounds as the Cougars — 36. Pepperdine had 11 offensive boards, which were crucial late in the game. A putback layup by the Waves’ Jan Zidek with 1:02 remaining, giving Pepperdine a 73-71 advantage, hurt the Cougars’ chances of pulling out a victory.
The Waves collected three offensive rebounds during a stretch in the final minutes, keeping possessions alive for Pepperdine.
“From the get-go, they were more physical than us, which should never happen with our team this year. We have a lot of big bodies. It’s unacceptable, honestly,” Lee said. “I haven’t seen the final stats but I’m almost positive we were outrebounded. I don’t remember the last time we got outrebounded in a game. I’m (ticked) off because we usually outrebound every single team we play and we take pride in that. That’s one thing that I’m super frustrated with.”
Trailing 76-73, BYU had a chance to tie the game but Alex Barcello’s 3-pointer from the corner missed the mark with nine seconds remaining.
Barcello sported a mouthguard Wednesday after chipping a tooth against this Pepperdine (7-7, 3-2) team last Saturday in Provo.
Wednesday, the Cougars (13-4, 4-2) knocked down an impressive 18 of 19 free throws. But they struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 5 of 20. Overall, BYU shot 44% from the floor.
Spencer Johnson led the Cougars with 15 points while Barcello had 12, Caleb Lohner added 11 and Richard Harward contributed 10. For Pepperdine, Colbey Ross scored a game-high 19 while Kessler Edwards had 18. Zidek added 13 and Sedrick Altman ended up with 11.
BYU’s next scheduled game is Tuesday at San Diego. The Cougars’ game with San Francisco, originally scheduled for Saturday in Provo, has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Dons.