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Pippen Jr. leads Vanderbilt past BYU men’s basketball

By Darnell Dickson - | Dec 23, 2021

Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr. (2) tries to get around BYU guard Te'Jon Lucas during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

BYU coach Mark Pope always talks about how his team must learn lessons from tough losses.

After the Cougars stumbled their way to a 69-67 loss to Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday, here are a couple of lessons that should stick:

1) Remember to guard the other team’s best player down the stretch and 2) take better care of the ball.

Scotty Pippen Jr. – the preseason SEC Player of the Year – scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the final seven minutes of the game and BYU turned the ball over 19 times.

Tough to overcome those two factors against a good team like Vanderbilt.

“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over 19 times,” Pope said in his post-game radio interview. “You’re just gifting 19 more possessions and taking away your own opportunities to score. I have to do a better job putting guys in positions to protect the ball. The last two games we’ve averaged 17 turnover a game. That’s crazy. That’s not us and that’s not who we’ve been. It’s something we’ve got to fix.”

As for Pippen …

“At the end of the day we just couldn’t keep Pippen away from the rim on the defensive end and that really hurt us,” Pope said. “That’s somewhere we’ve been really good but we didn’t manage that very well down the stretch. We have to guard better.”

The Cougars led by five points at halftime (35-30) but the Commodores erased that deficit quickly and the game went back and forth the entire second half, which featured 11 lead changes. BYU was up 57-53 with 8:04 to play after a rebound basket by Spencer Johnson but that’s when Pippen took over, scoring the next six field goals for Vanderbilt and making 4 of 5 from the foul line. His backcourt theft from an unsuspecting Caleb Lohner resulted in a layup and a 69-64 Commodores lead with 1:21 remaining.

Alex Barcello made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two, 69-67, at the 1:03 mark. The Cougars got a stop on the defensive end and had one more possession to tie or take the lead. Barcello missed a runner but gathered in the offensive rebound. He appeared to be fouled on the follow but no call was made. BYU tried to foul several times to stop the clock but the officials, who whistled 38 personal fouls during the game, swallowed their whistles and Vanderbilt was able to run out the remainder of the clock for the win.

The Commodores (8-4) will face Stanford in the Diamond Head Classic finals on Saturday. BYU (10-3) – which has still never won a multi-team event in Hawaii – will play in the third-place game against Liberty.

Barcello paced the Cougars with 15 points but dealt with foul trouble for the second straight game and was just 5 of 14 from the field. Lohner and Johnson both finished with 11 points. Freshman Fousseyni Traore contributed a career-best 15 rebounds and added nine points for BYU, which shot 41% (24 of 58) from the field.

After a slow start, BYU ripped off a 12-0 run, fueled by seven points from Trevin Knell’s pair of 3-pointers that included a four-point play. The Cougars took a 14-8 lead and never trailed the rest of the half. It was an unevenly officiated first 20 minutes but BYU made 5 of 6 free throws late and Johnson beat the buzzer with a rebound basket for a 35-30 lead at the break.

The Cougars never seemed to get comfortable with the way the game was being officiated and their last lead came with 5:30 to play on a Gideon George 3-pointer (60-59). Pippen Jr.’s final seven minutes pushed Vanderbilt into the finals.

“The season is a journey and things kind of ebb and flow,” Pope said. “Clearly, this is going to be a huge emphasis for us, to schematically get better and paying attention to detail if we’re going to be as good of a team as we’d like to be.

“We’re always thinking about how we can get better so at the end of the season we can be the best team we can. This stinks because it just ruins Christmas. But we’re going to spend next 48 hours trying to figure out how to get better and have a great Christmas and take on a great Liberty team.”

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