OMAHA, Neb. — The word BYU coach Mark Pope used to describe the sixth-seeded Cougars’ 71-67 loss to 11th-seeded Duquesne here at CHI Health Center was “devastating.”

The word Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot used to describe his team’s surprising win was “defense.”

Holding a team that averages more than 80 points a game to one of its lowest outputs of its magical, high-scoring season, the Dukes put up their dukes, out-physicaled and out-toughed BYU in almost every way imaginable — including landing a couple of questionable blows — and rode off with the NCAA Tournament first-round win to keep alive their own inspiring late-season run.

“I think the score pretty much says exactly why we won,” Dambrot said. “They didn’t get any easy ones. We made them work for everything they got.”

In seeing their 31st appearance in the Big Dance end without a Final Four appearance for a national-high 31st time, the Cougars (23-11) picked a horrible time to get off to a slow start, battled back gamely to tie the score at 60-60 with less than two minutes remaining, then watched as the Dukes (25-11) got the majority of the fortunate bounces down the stretch to pull off their ninth-straight win.

“Just a devastating day for us, for sure,” Pope said. “It is devastating because we lost. It is devastating because we won’t move on, and mostly it is devastating because we don’t get to get in the gym together again. … This is incredibly painful.”

The pain started early, as BYU point guard Dallin Hall took an elbow to the noggin that drew blood less than three minutes into the contest and played the remainder of the game with cotton stuffed in both nostrils. The tone had been set.

Duquesne physically throws BYU out of NCAA Tournament’s first round

BYU never really responded until the second half of the second half, but led the game for only a 29-second stretch in the first half.

In their past two games, the Big 12 quarterfinal loss to Texas Tech in which they fell behind 9-0 and 14-2, and this one, BYU led for a whopping 29 seconds.

For some reason, which Pope and his staff and cadre of team psychologists will now have a lot of time in the offseason to figure out, BYU starts postseason tournament games with the jitters, shooting the ball poorly.

“They just played harder than us,” said guard Richie Saunders. “Things didn’t go our way early, and and we let them bother us. … They just hit shots early and we didn’t. We knew it was going to be tough going in, and we didn’t answer it well.”

Saunders said some of Duquesne’s blows “were cheap shots,” including the one leveled at Hall and another to start the second half in which Noah Waterman and DU’s Fousseyni Drame got tangled up after Waterman snared a rebound and both men fell to the floor, neither willing to let loose the ball.

After a review, both players were assessed technical fouls and the possession arrow pointed in Duquesne’s favor. The message had been sent: The Dukes weren’t going to let BYU out-physical them, even with what would grow to a 14-point lead in the second half.

That held-ball ruling became huge later when, with 44 seconds remaining, another held ball after Jimmy Clark III (11 points) missed a free throw with DU leading 63-60 led to a mad scramble for the loose ball.

The arrow pointed Duquesne’s way, and with 24 seconds remaining, Clark hit a shot to make it 65-60 and pretty much put the upset away. Earlier, a held ball was called after it appeared BYU had either blocked a shot or forced a travel, but the whistle went DU’s way.

It was that kind of day for the Cougs, who haven’t won a Round of 64 game since 2011 over Wofford. That 2011 game sparked their last Sweet 16 run.

“I never want to take away from the opponent, what they do. But there was just a couple things we should have done better, grabbed loose balls, boxed out,” said Hall, who scored BYU’s last seven points and finished with 11 points, six assists, four steals and just one turnover. “I remember I had a possession where we gave up a rebound on an air ball. So those are things that I gotta clean up as a leader and as a team.”

In one sequence that summed up the loss, Fousseyni Traore had a shot rattle out — the big man thought he’d made it and had turned upcourt — and then on the other end Clark’s 15-footer hit the front of the rim, crawled over, bounced around a couple times, and fell through.

“The ball just bounced their way,” Hall said.

That Hall, Spencer Johnson and Traore had the ball in their hands in the final five minutes, and not Jaxson Robinson, will forever be rued in Cougarville. Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 5:09 remaining to cut the deficit to 55-54, but didn’t get off another shot and finished with a game-high 25 points.

“Just playing within the offense, taking whatever the defense gives me,” said Robinson, a senior with another year of eligibility remaining who left open the possibility of returning to BYU in the postgame news conference. “My teammates were finding me open shots. Dallin did a great job of just being a facilitator. He’s been there all season for us.”

But BYU’s shot-making, which has been there when the Cougars have won and disappeared when they’ve lost, for the most part, was not there long enough. BYU went 8 of 24 from deep, as Duquesne borrowed a page from Iowa State’s playbook and forced the Cougars inside the arc.

The Cougars finished shooting 38.6%, while Duquesne, not known as an efficient offensive team, shot 46.4%

“I think they were super pressed up on us,” Hall said. “They were really grabbing, holding on all of our cuts. So that forced us to cut to the rim a lot. The second half when we were on our toes, attacking the rim a lot, we got a lot of really good looks. Some of them just didn’t fall.”

On one possession after Spencer Johnson’s layup cut the deficit to 48-40, both Saunders and Hall missed wide open 3-pointers. Two possessions after that, Traore missed two bunnies at the rim.

“I felt like we did a good job of battling back and we put ourselves in some good situations, and then we hurt ourselves sometimes,” said Johnson, who had 16 rebounds and 11 points in his final college game.

One of those costly mistakes came after a timeout with 3:01 remaining and BYU trailing 58-56; Saunders’ lazy lob pass to Hall was stolen by Clark, who raced downcourt for a dunk.

“My three turnovers,” Saunders said, when asked what will haunt him the most in his first NCAA Tournament game.

And the Cougars remain haunted by another loss in the NCAAs, where they are now 15-34 all-time.

“It is a terrible time, just seeing our locker room universally devastated, and there’s nothing to do to fix it, and there is not another game to go make it better,” Pope said.

It was a tough ending, delivered by a tougher team — at least on this day — that dampened an otherwise mostly sweet season.