Out of necessity, shorthanded No. 12 BYU went to a small lineup Saturday afternoon at Missouri State, and for the first time this season, the Cougars were outrebounded.
But more importantly, this new-look BYU team rebounded from its disappointing overtime loss at Utah Valley University last Wednesday with a gutty 74-68 victory in a Quad 1 game against the Bears at JQH Arena.
“At halftime, we had zero offensive rebounds. It’s a whole new identity on this team,” coach Mark Pope told BYU Radio. “When you have guys that are so willing to do whatever needs to be done to win — these guys had to reinvent themselves in two days. It’s awesome. Go figure. We’ve been dominating great teams on the glass, and now we’re small ball.”
Once again, senior guards Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas carried the Cougars. Barcello scored a game-high 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Lucas had 17 points on 8 of 16 shooting, including a 3, three rebounds and two assists.
The Cougars were without forward Gideon George, who remains out with an illness, and forward Gavin Baxter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against UVU.
Trevin Knell made his first start of the season and finished with six points and five rebounds.
Spencer Johnson scored 14 points, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range, and he grabbed six rebounds.
Caleb Lohner had 10 points and six boards.
“We were shorthanded, but we’ve got to fight with those we have,” Lucas said. “We can’t focus on people that weren’t here. We had to lock in. A lot of guys stepped up for us.”
Hunter Erickson, who has played sparingly this season, logged 14 minutes Saturday. Atiki Ally Atiki came off the bench to play three minutes.
“We had to rework everything because you take away Gideon and you take away Gavin and then all of the sudden we become really, really small in our rotations,” Pope said.
“I’ve got guys playing the four that haven’t played a single possession at the four all year long for significant stretches of the game.”
Missouri State may not have any prestige nationally, but this marked an important win for the Cougars (7-1).
Not only did they avoid a losing streak, but they earned a road decision that was a Quad 1 win — which is big for BYU’s NCAA Tournament resume.
“This win is going to look better and better every single day as we go through the season,” Pope said. “It took a ton of fight and a ton of guts and a ton of commitment to each other and they came out and got it done. I’m so proud, I really am. Talk about how do you respond. These guys were great.”
“It was great showing that we can go on the road and do a lot of things that we did at home,” Lucas said. “Getting a win here is a Quad 1 game.
“People are like, ‘Why are we playing this game?,’ but at the end of the day, it makes sense in March. I’m glad we were able to get the win.”
Missouri State (4-4) held a 39-34 rebounding advantage against BYU and had more second-chance points (15-6) and more points in the paint (36-26).
The Bears also had more bench points (41-18).
Missouri State was led by Jaylen Minnett, who scored 19 points, including five 3-pointers. Gaige Prim added 17 and Lu’cye Patterson chipped in 16.
Lucas knows all about Minnett. The two played against each other the past couple of seasons when Lucas was at Milwaukee and Minnett was at IUPUI.
“It’s good to battle someone I’ve been playing for a while,” Lucas said. “I’m just glad we came out on top this time.”
Pope praised Lucas’ contributions on the defensive end.
“Te’Jon Lucas’ defense for the last 14 minutes of the first half on Minnett was unbelievable,” Pope said, who added that Lucas, like a few players on the team, have been battling illnesses this week.
BYU led at intermission 35-27 and it scored six straight points to start the second half as it took its largest lead (14 points) of the game, 41-27.
But the Bears roared back, cutting the deficit to 57-56 with 5:35 remaining and then 63-62 with 1:38 left on the clock.
At that point, the Cougars enjoyed a 7-0 run to retake control of the game and they hit 7 of 10 free throws over the final 38 seconds.
After a challenging week that saw BYU lose its first game of the season and also lose one of its best players for the season, Pope appreciated the win. He’s optimistic about the future, even though the makeup of this team has changed in recent days.
“This team has got a chance to be really special. It’s not the team we thought it was going to be a week ago and we’re never going to be back to the team we thought we were going to be a week ago,” Pope said.
“It’s not going to be the team we thought we had a month ago. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to that. We’re sitting a 7-1 and we have three Quad 1 wins. I’m super proud of these guys and excited about what we’ve got coming.”
BYU hosts Utah State Wednesday.