LOS ANGELES — Craig Cusick was a big part of the story last night. He was also simply doing his job, which is all coach Dave Rose could ask when his backup point guard changed the Loyola Marymount game for good.
He hit three second-half 3-pointers, including two on successive possessions that tamed the Lions. His other long shot came about three minutes later, doubling the margin on what was a 46-43 leqd.
The pair turned what was a 39-38 deficit into a 44-38 lead with 15:30 left, LMU calling timeout right after the second bomb but never finding enough momentum to ever take the lead. No way LMU prepared much for Thursday's game regarding Cusick.
"They were able to kick the ball out, and I was open a few times," Cusick said humbly outside of the Gersten Pavilion locker room after the 73-65 win.
Cusick has been one of the guys that Rose has gotten the most out of, despite leading him into the possibility of disappointment.
It's a chicken-egg question. Who do you give credit to, the coaching staff for getting players to understand roles — the concept of winning within that framework? Or is it on the players' character (even giving more credit perhaps to parents than coaches) for being able to fit within systems — play hard, but don't rock the boat regarding personal agendas.
Cusick, Anson Winder and Stephen Rogers have all fit the bill of handling their roles within the team quite well.
Winder and Cusick traded off playing time with each other until mid-December, then both lost minutes when Matt Carlino came aboard Dec. 17.
Carlino himself is still figuring things out, which is how he came to be sitting on a bench for a solid chunk of the second half as Cusick's patience (not to mention his accuracy) suited the team better. Rogers is a sixth man who is capable of a starter's shooting touch.
What helped Cusick's case the most, however, was that BYU got back to its old ways.
Drawing double-teams inside, because of the capabilities of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies, Cusick was left wide-open.
His second 3-pointer was an especially pretty play. It showcased exactly how the inside-outside offense is supposed to work.
Hartsock had the ball in the post. He spotted Davies wide-open around the free-throw line. Davies has been making that shot this year. It has to be respected. The defense collapsed to him. He spotted Cusick, who swished a trey after having plenty of time to set his feet and deliver a smooth stroke.
Cusick took his highlights in stride.
"I'm trying to keep the team perspective," said the former Utah walk-on. "I'm not trying to think about my own personal minutes. But when I'm on the floor, I try to take advantage of the minutes I do get. I trust the coaches. The minutes will work out for themselves."
Speaking of Winder, talk about hitting some clutch free throws.
The 13-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes left was whittled to two after LMU hit a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left.
Winder was fouled about five seconds later. The redshirt freshman calmly trotted to the other end of the floor and drained the pair.
"It was a great team win," Rose said. "Obviously when we evaluate the whole thing, some guys played better than others. But everybody should walk out of here with a really good feeling of the potential of this team. The first one's a hard one to get. The first road win in league — we feel a lot better than we did last week (losing at St. Mary's)."
Rogers saw his first action in three weeks, getting seven minutes at LMU.
He missed all three shots, but the best sign he's feeling good mentally and physically from knee surgery is that he earned two free throws the hard way.
Rogers was going in for a dunk and took a clean-but-hard foul near the rim, in the air.
"He went strong to the basket," Rose said. "He looked confident. That was good."
Jason Franchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter, @harkthefranchuk