It came down to a last-second shot. In one way.
In so many others, BYU's disappointing Marriott Center loss to No. 6-ranked Baylor came down to a meltdown to end the first half, and another midway through the second half.
The Bears, improving to 9-0 for the season in a venue that left them impressed Saturday, were just enough better to block a 3-point shot from Brandon Davies at the buzzer that salvaged an 86-83 outcome. It was just BYU's sixth home loss under seventh-year head coach Dave Rose, and just the second against a non-conference team in the Cougars' last 50 home games.
"I had no doubt in my mind that was going in, if I had gotten the shot off," Davies said confidently of his try from the top of the key -- his first such attempt from behind the arc this year. "But they made a great play."
Pierre Jackson, listed as 11 inches shorter than Davies, swooped in from the BYU player's right side and made a clean swat just as the shot was about to be released.
It was the kind of play that summed up the second half, a 20-minute time frame in which Baylor just didn't do as much wrong.
Consider that it trailed by a game-high 13 points with 2 1/2 minutes before half, then ended on a 10-1 scoring run.
Out-rebounded a whopping 26-12 in the opening half -- so much for all of that long, springy Baylor athleticism, right? -- the visitors surged into their biggest win of the season by snagging one more board (19-18) the rest of the way.
Ultimately, the story could be that Jackson missed the front end of a bonus free-throw opportunity with eight seconds left, leaving the Cougars a chance to run the floor and force overtime. Charles Abouo drove inside the free throw line, kicked it back as expected to the perimeter.
Only it wasn't a typical 3-point shooter that got the last chance.
A few BYU players who might have preferably taken it, instead stared dejectedly at the bench as the horn sounded after Jackson chased down his own heroics.
It ended BYU's four-game winning streak, dating back to the Thanksgiving weekend loss against No. 11 Wisconsin in Chicago.
Again, BYU faltered in the second half and went on a crucial scoring drought. Just like the other two losses (Utah State to start the season, and UW) there was a five-minute stretch midway through the second half. This one didn't quite hurt BYU as much. There was at least still a chance to win in the last minute. But the trend against arguably the three best teams BYU has faced so far (at least USU counts that way at home) has to be a disturbing trend.
"We had our chances," Rose said.
Baylor forced missed shots and also some turnovers, and those 16 (compared to BU's 13) added up. The Bears scored 26 points off turnovers (BYU had 20).
A lot of miscues led to the Cougars trailing, 79-70, with 5:25 left.
"Turnovers in the first half hurt us," Rose said. "They're long, deep and athletic so they can take a lot of chances. And foul trouble isn't an issue with (BU) because they go so deep down the roster."
Baylor was led by 26 points from Perry Jones III, seemingly a top-10 NBA draft pick next summer who had his bounty on 10-of-15 shooting.
The real killer, however, was Brady Heslip. Also like the UW loss, an average-sized (6-foot-2) outside chucker buried BYU with a slew of threes. He had six on 10 tries for 18 points.
"I knew I had to take good shots and take care of the ball," the Boston College transfer said. "But really, we stayed together as a team and we're happy to get a win."
Baylor sounded like it loved the place.
Coach Scott Drew raved about the sold-out atmosphere (22,300) compared to the four previous BYU home games that averaged about half-full.
Jones, an admirable 6-foot-11 sophomore who has already turned down NBA money once, said he "want to give respect to the fan base here. That's one of the hardest places to play. They didn't use foul language. ...I respect them from that, and for not cussing us out like other places."
BYU had to curse this: Usually, BYU is invincible when it has four double-digit scorers.
But Brandon Davies and newcomer Matt Carlino each poured in 18 points, while Noah Hartsock had 15 and Charles Abouo added 17 — and it came up just short.
Rose lamented finally getting the building full again, which happened often the past couple of years, and not finding a way to win.
It certainly sounded like a much bigger crowd. It awakened the Bears, too.
Baylor took an 86-83 lead with 22 seconds left when Jones scored a putback layup off a missed 3-pointer, shortly after missing some time for what looked like a bad knee injury.
Carlino, who made 7-of-14 shots in his debut, went for instant-legend status on the next possession. A game-tying shot, wide-open from the right elbow, rattled out. He looked awfully tired after 24 minutes, yet the dejection in his post-game voice seemed to say he easily would have had five more minutes in him.
Who knows what happens if the Cougars force overtime?
"The crowd got them going," Drew said. "The crowd was outstanding. The last four minutes, I was really pleased with how our team responded."
BYU leads 42-38 against the nation's sixth-ranked team, but the Cougars had to go to the locker room feeling like they let Baylor off the hook.
BYU put together two massive offensive runs and even led, 41-28, with 2:25 left in the first half.
The Bears, playing in easily their toughest game this year, settled down and scored on four of their last five possessions (not counting a hustle to the bucket at the halftime buzzer).
Brandon Davies lead BYU with 12 points and eight rebounds, his most impressive outing this year. He has keyed a 26-11 rebounding advantage.
Noah Hartsock and Damarcus Harrison each have eight as BYU tries to extend its winning streak to five games.
Perry Jones III, arguably a top-10 NBA draft pick next summer, has 12 points after a slow start for his 8-0 team. He's tied for the Bears scoring lead with Brady Heslip, who hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
Of all the athleticism and height BU possesses, it's the former Boston College guard Heslip -- all 6-foot-2, 180 pounds -- that has kept Baylor around.
The Cougars were without Stephen Rogers, who had knee surgery Thursday that will keep him out about a month.
The team added Matt Carlino, who was welcomed to the floor for the first time at 13:13 with a loud ovation. He looked to be worth the wait in his minutes, scoring three points in nine minutes and adding a couple of assists.
However, the point guard left the floor right after his most dubious play. Pierre Jackson picked his pocket near the Baylor basket and converted a layup into a 3-point play off a Carlino foul that cut BYU's lead to 41-34.
Rose switched Carlino (who had two fouls) with Craig Cusick, but Rose -- ever the confidence booster -- greeted Carlino back to the bench with a high five.
The Cougars will need more of him in the second half.
BYU couldn't ask for more from its two seniors.
Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo are more valuable than they've been their past three years, both statistically and in leadership.
While Hartsock has easily been the team's most consistent scorer through 10 games, however, this one today against undefeated and No. 6-ranked Baylor should require even more help from Abouo.
The small forward is averaging career highs in points (12.3), rebounds (7.2) and assists (2.7). But he has been conspicuously not as productive in 8-2 BYU's pair of losses.
Ending Baylor's eight-game winning streak to start the season may mean he'll have to fare better than he did the season-opener at Utah State and against No. 11 Wisconsin over Thanksgiving weekend.
He had 16 points in 36 minutes at USU, making 4-of-6 shots and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. But a lot of that came in the closing minutes when it was clear the Aggies were going to win.
Against UW, he was 2-of-6 (0/2 from long range) with six points, four turnovers and four rebounds in 36 minutes.
Abouo didn't even take a shot in the first half at Utah last Saturday, BYU's last game. That trend cannot hold today.
Leadership, in the stat column as well as the locker room, will be imperative. Hartsock and Abouo should have that covered. They've been in these frenzied situations plenty. Abouo said he doesn't worry about the younger players, of which there are many this year.
"We may just give them a few words to help keep their emotions in check," he said. "We know everyone's prepared hard everyday."
BYU will not have Stephen Rogers available, because of knee surgery Thursday after a practice accident. He could serve usually as Abouo's substitute and was the sixth man who provided some scoring sizzle.
Look for backup center Nate Austin, easily the team's most pleasant surprise this year, to gain more minutes because of the rotation switch.
Incoming guard Matt Carlino could potentially replace Rogers' outside-shooting punch. But this is his first college game. No way the Cougars have any idea what to expect.
Freshman Damarcus Harrison, in limited minutes, has still looked too green to be ready to make an impact in this type of game (Austin is also new to the environment he's about to witness today, and it'll be interesting to see how he responds to both the surroundings and BU's athleticism).
That leaves perhaps more onus on Abouo to be a rebounding machine, or be an outside shooting threat that forces Baylor to respect the Cougar guard line.
BU's strength is in its front court, where it may try to make life difficult for Hartsock and center Brandon Davies.
From the "For What It's Worth" category comes this note from BYU:
Saturday’s matchup with Baylor is BYU's ninth at noon or earlier under coach Dave Rose.
The Cougars are 8-0 in those games including 6-0 on neutral floors and 2-0 on the road. Last season BYU defeated top 10-ranked San Diego State on the road and last Saturday the Cougars downed Utah at the Huntsman Center. This will be the first noon or earlier game in the Marriott Center under Rose.
BYU (8-2) vs. No. 6 Baylor (8-0)
Noon, Marriott Center
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: The school has announced the game a sellout. ...Teams haven't met since 1979, and Cougars leads series 5-2. ...This is the 4th straight year BYU has played host to a top 10-ranked team. ...Senior Noah Hartsock has been BYU’s most consistent contributor this season, averaging 17.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. ...Baylor is led by 6-11 sophomore forward Perry Jones III, who averages 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds. ...Both teams will be breaking in mid-year transfer point guards for their first outing: BYU's Matt Carlino will come off the bench while it's unclear how former Cal player Gary Franklin will be used for BU.
Jason Franchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter, @harkthefranchuk