NIT 2nd round

Have Mercer: Cougars excited to keep playing NIT ball; Bears, after beating UT, up next in Provo

2013-03-21T00:30:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:32Z Have Mercer: Cougars excited to keep playing NIT ball; Bears, after beating UT, up next in ProvoJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
March 21, 2013 12:30 am  • 

The benefit of a home game was met by a somewhat surreal, hushed tone at the Marriott Center on Tuesday.

BYU didn't even sell tickets for the upper concourse at the Marriott Center, and there was no pre-game spectacle when it came to introductions to kick off the NIT. Washington was introduced with very little resistance from the crowd.

BYU itself was met with mellow. No white curtains draped from the scoreboard, showing off highlights. No music, either, like basically any other game this season. Just five names introduced, and politely applauded.

Almost like guests at a child's birthday party would offer gentle recognition of the entertainment.

But by the second half, there was no clowning around.

The Cougars built up strong defense and rebounding, which turned into strong offense and a decided home-court advantage like usual. Washington, which won three games in the NIT last year, was sent home for the season after one, falling 90-79.

Head coach Dave Rose, whose team missed on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, lauded the atmosphere and praised his own team for the effort it exerted last week and this one to move on.

"We want to keep playing basketball," sophomore Tyler Haws said succinctly.

Almost as efficient as his 37 points against Washington in the 90-79 win.

That sets up a Monday night game with Mercer. The school based out of central Georgia won at Tennessee on Wednesday, 75-67.

Will the 24-11 Bears get the best of BYU (with game time still TBD)?

That seemed to be on full display against UW. Of course, there was Haws' production. Brandon Davies was a man possessed on everything from blocked shots to diving on the floor to produce rebounds.

The Cougars are 8-0 this season when up-and-down point guard Matt Carlino produces 20 points, of which he had 18 in the second half as Rose sat him early.

"They were the team that we talked to our team about. They executed. They did what they needed to do," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, noting that stopping the Cougars in transition offense was his No. 1 goal and his team failed.

Rose praised his team's effort from the time of last week. The Cougars hadn't played a game since March 8 and were relegated to practicing for ghosts until they were selected into the 32-team NIT on Sunday evening.

Running was a common theme of the sessions.

BYU sold $10 tickets, and season-ticket holders were even required to chip in as the NIT games aren't a part of the 2012-13 package.

About 7,500 fans bought in, including a robust-as-usual student section.

"The crowd was really vocal," Rose said. "There was a really good vibe in the arena."

The return gift was BYU's "Big Three" — Haws, Davies and Carlino — all scoring 20 points for the first time this season.

Could that produce even bigger followings as the NIT rolls on?

There's a common pattern (including UW's run to the semifinals last year) that home teams trend to draw more fans as they get adjusted to the NIT. The Huskies went from about 2,000 fans to 9,000 over the course of three games.

BYU would need to beat Mercer, then one more win — likely at No. 1 seed Southern Mississippi — to advance to the semifinals in New York City.

Though the NIT isn't for everyone. Kentucky already lost at Robert Morris. Florida State, which beat the Cougars in November, bailed as well on Tuesday with a loss at Louisiana Tech. (Florida State was the one common opponent between Mercer and BYU, as the Seminoles beat BYU and lost the the Bears.)

Rose said the message Monday was simple: "Let's take advantage of this opportunity to play again."

Mercer seems to feel the same way, as it improved to 2-1 against Southeastern Conference opponents by beating UT.

Travis Smith scored 25 points to match his career high Wednesday for the Atlantic Sun regular-season champion.

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