After he was whistled for his fourth foul and subbed out of Saturday’s 87-75 win over TCU, BYU guard Richie Saunders was given a standing ovation from the Marriott Center crowd.

It was well-deserved.

Saunders was perhaps the biggest catalyst in BYU’s second-half turnaround, and a big reason why the Cougars (9-7, 21-8) were able to pull off the big comeback after trailing 46-29 at halftime.

“I thought Richie was brilliant there (with his defense),” coach Mark Pope said. “I thought his toughness plays really made a difference for us.”

Saunders scored nine of his 11 points in the second half and made both the field goal that knotted the score at 62-62 with 7:45 remaining and the 3-pointer with 7:25 left that gave the Cougars their first lead of the second half, a lead they would not relinquish.

“That was a really hard-fought win. Going into halftime, we were down 17. We really talked about fight, how we needed to be the aggressor and be the one that hit first,” Saunders said.

“We came out and did just that. There were some really big plays all over the board. It was just a really fun team win to be a part of and come out with the victory.”

Analysis: How BYU out-toughed TCU in huge second-half comeback, 87-75 win
Social media reacts to Richie Saunders’ career night against TCU

The Cougars were +19 in scoring when Saunders was on the court, and +14 when fellow sub Fouss Traore was out there. With Traore scoring 21 and Jaxson Robinson adding nine off the bench, BYU’s reserves scored 41 points.

In reality, the Cougars have eight starters; Robinson, Saunders and Traore could start for a lot of teams around the country. Eight BYU players average 18 minutes or more, while seven average nine points or more.

Pope said any of the eight have the mental toughness required to come off the bench and be ready. Toughness is becoming one of this team’s greatest strengths.

“I dig it, and I am fortunate to be around guys who are tough. These guys demonstrated toughness tonight. … Sometimes we mistake toughness for yelling and screaming and fouling and grabbing and punching,” Pope said. “But real toughness is the ability to focus when everything around you is going sideways and you don’t even feel right yourself. These guys were brilliant with their toughness tonight.”

Saunders led the way, while starters Spencer Johnson (+23) and Dallin Hall (+19) were also steady throughout the game of wild runs.

Hall, who was pestered throughout the contest by TCU’s quick, athletic guards, posted 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds with just one turnover.

Hall has 25 assists and just five turnovers in his last five games.

“We are witnessing the development of a young star,” Pope said of the sophomore from Fremont High. “I don’t know any other way to say that. … He’s one of the best guards in the league.”

BYU also got a big lift from Trevin Knell’s shooting in the second half. Knell opened the second half with a 3-pointer that calmed the Cougars and gave them confidence that they could make the comeback, Saunders said.

Knell finished 7 of 13 from the field, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range.

“That’s what he does. He hits shots,” Saunders said. “It is fun to watch and fun to be on the court with him.”

That’s also what teammates say about Saunders, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Riverton by way of Central Utah’s Wasatch Academy.

Traore said the turnaround started in the locker room at halftime when Pope told the players to put away the chairs and form a mosh pit of sorts, colliding off each other to wake them up and get them thinking about playing more physically and with more toughness.

“That was actually crazy. We have never done anything like that before,” Traore said. “Coach said let’s put all the chairs away and let’s start hitting each other and that is what we (did). … I feel like that was super good. Nice (call), coach. We gotta start doing that more.”

Cougars on the air

BYU (9-7, 21-8)

at No. 9 Iowa State (12-4, 23-6)

Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST

Hilton Coliseum

Ames, Iowa


Radio:102.7 FM/1160 AM

BYU’s incredible week — the win at No. 7 Kansas and a 12-point conquest of a TCU team that has been in and out of the rankings all season — should propel the Cougars back into the Associated Press Top 25 when the new survey is released Monday.

It will be interesting to see where the Cougars land. Top 20, perhaps? It was also interesting to note that the rankings do, after all, mean something to these guys.

Knell said BYU “played with a little bit more of an edge” because it was left out of the rankings for the first time in 14 weeks last week.

“And people picked us to finish 13th in the league,” he said to BYUtv. “We haven’t forgotten anything. We keep our receipts.”

Up next for the Cougars is another huge road contest, this time at No. 9 Iowa State (12-4, 23-6) on Wednesday. Tipoff time was moved to 7 p.m. MST on Saturday (from 6 p.m. MST) and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.