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BYU salvages Senior Night with big 2nd half in win over Saint Mary’s

Last February, BYU’s epic upset of No. 2 Gonzaga touched off a crazy court-storming on Senior Night. A year later, the Cougars overcame a slow shooting start to vanquish Saint Mary’s, 65-51, in front of a crowd of a little less than 2,000.

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Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) hugs his teammates and coaches.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) hugs his teammates and coaches at the one-minute remaining mark during a game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

Honestly, in the first half of Saturday’s BYU-Saint Mary’s game on Senior Night at the Marriott Center, there wasn’t much to text home about.

Fortunately for the Cougars, it turned out to be another memorable Senior Night. 

All’s well that ends well.    

Last February, BYU’s epic upset of No. 2 Gonzaga touched off a crazy court-storming on Senior Night. 

A year later, the Cougars overcame a slow shooting start to vanquish Saint Mary’s, 65-51, in front of a crowd of a little less than 2,000. 

“We have special Senior Nights, don’t we? It was a different feel than last year.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

“We have special Senior Nights, don’t we?” said coach Mark Pope. “It was a different feel than last year.”

Yes it was. 

In the first half, it was especially tough on the offensive end for the three seniors — Alex Barcello, Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette. 

The trio combined to shoot 0 for 11 in the first half as the Cougars slogged to a 23-point opening half. 

But in the second half, those seniors helped turned things around quickly. 

Meanwhile, sophomore Trevin Knell enjoyed big night, scoring a career-high 15 points, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

In the second half, Averette, Haarms and Barcello combined to go 10 of 15 from the floor and they combined to score 26 points.

The Cougars made nine of their first 12 shots in the second half to take their first double-digit lead of the game. 

As a team, BYU scored 42 points over the final 20 minutes. While the Cougars shot 23% in the first half, they shot 67% in the second half, including 5 of 6 3-pointers. 

“We continued to stay aggressive,” Averette said. “We got going.” 

So what was going on in the first half?

“It was the whole Senior Night vibe. It was a little weird,” Averette said. “We knew the shots would eventually fall for us.”

For the game, Haarms finished with 11 points, a season-high 10 rebounds and five blocked shots (the blocks all came in the first half). Also, Haarms eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau for his collegiate career, including three seasons at Purdue, and he now has 1,004 points. 

Averette chipped in 11 points and four assists. Barcello — two nights after posting a career-high scoring performance with 29 points and 7 of 7 shooting from 3-point territory — had eight points to go along with five rebounds and five assists.

Gideon George contributed 11 points and hit three 3-pointers. 

The seniors were honored before Saturday’s game, as expected. Then with 51 seconds remaining, Pope checked the three seniors out of the game for one more ovation. 

After the game, Pope staged an impromptu post-game celebration. First, he addressed the crowd, thanking for the fans for their support all season. He talked about the seniors. 

“The time will come, when it’s appropriate, to recruit them for one more year,” Pope said. 

Because the NCAA has paused the eligibility for all players this season due to the pandemic, all three technically could return for another season. 

Then Pope turned the time over to the three seniors to share their feelings at the end of Senior Night, which caught them each off-guard. But they spoke from the heart. They expressed their gratitude for all that has transpired this season and they looked ahead, too. 

“Business is not done,” Barcello said. 

With the win, the Cougars (19-5, 10-3) won their fourth consecutive game and clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. 

The first half looked like it was concocted in Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett’s laboratory. 

From the outset, BYU played right into Saint Mary’s (13-8, 4-6) hands as the Gaels made the game ugly. 

Saint Mary’s opened the game shooting 1 of 10 from the floor yet trailed by only 6-5 early on. The Gaels finished their previous game with the Cougars 1 of 12 shooting and then had a rough start Saturday.

But BYU didn’t shoot much better. While Knell nailed a couple of 3-pointers, BYU’s first 2-point field goal didn’t come until the 9:33 mark of the first half on a put-back by George. It was also the Cougars’ first point from a starter. 

At halftime, BYU led 23-18. The Cougars shot 7 of 30 from the field in the first half. BYU and Saint Mary’s combined for 50 rebounds at intermission. 

Former BYU coach Dave Rose, who suffered a stroke on New Year’s Eve, attended Saturday’s game. 

All in all, it was another memorable Senior Night for BYU. 

“I have such a deep affection for these three seniors,” Pope said.