For more than 28 minutes of game time Wednesday night, No. 20 BYU had its way with No. 6 Iowa State’s vaunted defense.

Jaxson Robinson’s floater with just over 12 minutes remaining gave the Cougars an 11-point lead, and the Cyclones’ perfect home record in 2023-24 was in serious jeopardy. The Cougars were well on their way to posting their second-straight road upset over a top-10 team, nearly as impressive as last week’s win at No. 7 Kansas.

Then everything changed, from BYU’s shooting, to ISU’s intensity, to the crowd’s involvement, to BYU’s confidence.

They call it Hilton Magic around Ames, Iowa, and boy did it go into effect in the last half of the second half.

Curtis Jones hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to start the comeback, and then the Cougars played along, misfiring on countless 3-pointers and shots at the rim, then turning the ball over like it was a stale Cougar Tail.

With BYU failing to score in the game’s final four minutes and 23 seconds, the Big 12′s second-best team scratched out a 68-63 win in front of a sellout crowd of 14,267 to finish with an 18-0 home record.

Like BYU’s loss at Texas Tech in January, this will go down as a winnable one that got away late.

“We were full of fight and full of competitiveness and on our toes, it just turned out that our decision-making down the stretch was left a little bit wanting,” BYU coach Mark Pope told the BYU Sports Radio Network. “The 17 turnovers was story of the game. A ton of credit goes to Iowa State for that. We will be excited to improve and grow in our decision-making, for sure.”

How did the Cougars (9-8, 21-9) blow this one, missing an opportunity to do what no other team has done at Hilton Coliseum all year?

Let us count the ways.

As Pope bemoaned, BYU committed 17 turnovers. And its timing couldn’t have been worse, with three giveaways on its final four possessions. The fourth and final possession was an airballed 3-pointer that would have tied it, thus ending arguably BYU’s worst four-minute stretch of the season.

Sure, some of the turnovers were forced, or Iowa State’s grabbing, hands-on defense could have been whistled for another foul or two, but the bulk of the turnovers were unforced, such as Fousseyni Traore’s travel with 53 seconds remaining or Dallin Hall’s bad pass to Richie Saunders with 1:36 left.

Hall almost singlehandedly delivered the stunning win at Phog Allen last week, but down the stretch he seemed to be in a fog. He was 2 off 9 from the field, and added three turnovers to his three assists.

“Down the stretch, I actually loved the shots we got for most of the second half. I love the way we were executing, I liked the way we were guarding, for the most part, for most of the half,” Pope said. “Three of the last five possessions, give or take, we turned the ball over. When you are on the road playing against one of the best teams in the Big 12, you just have to function better there.”

No. 20 Cougars can’t land knockout blow in Big 12 slugfest at No. 6 Iowa State
3 keys to No. 20 BYU’s 68-63 Big 12 road loss at No. 6 Iowa State

Several times in both halves, the Cougars were left empty at the rim, either getting the basketball stripped or blocked. Officials let them play, as they say. BYU missed five free throws, including Traore’s miss of a one-and-one opportunity with 2:37 remaining.

BYU then proceeded to miss its next three shots on the same possession, a sequence that proved that it just wasn’t the Cougars’ night, after things started so swimmingly.

Another critical error came with 7:02 left when senior Spencer Johnson got trapped in the corner and burned BYU’s final timeout.

“We desperately needed a timeout and I kinda burned through those early, trying to manage things. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t do that,” Pope said. “There is a ton of stuff we would like to take back in this game. But the guys played hard and I like the way we are trying to play downhill against pressure. And we just wish we would have executed better.”

For all the second-half meltdowns, BYU had a 63-61 lead with 4:23 remaining when Saunders hit two free throws, the final of his career-tying 20 points. BYU even got the ball back with a chance to extend the lead, but Hall missed a 3-pointer and Traore picked up his fourth foul battling for the rebound.

Robert Jones scored three points on ISU’s next two possessions, and the Cyclones escaped from their biggest home scare of the year. Keshon Gilbert made four late free throws to seal it for the home team.

“Even tonight in a loss we accomplished a lot that no other teams have been able to accomplish here,” Pope said. “So I like us. I like where we are. Most importantly, we just have to keep trusting ourselves and (improve) some decision-making and understand a little bit more, but keep on our toes.”

Iowa State crowed about its late-game defense after the grinder, but bottom line, really, was that the Cougars went cold in the second half, missing a lot of shots they have made all season. They were 2 of 15 from beyond the arc in the second half, and 5 of 15 from inside the 3-point line.

The Cougars scored just nine points in the game’s final 10 minutes, 15 seconds.

“I am really proud of what our guys did,” Pope said. “We just weren’t quite good enough down the stretch.”