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Traore powers BYU to third-place finish at Diamond Head Classic

By Darnell Dickson - | Dec 25, 2021

BYU freshman Fousseyni Traore was named to the All-Tournament team at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021. (AP Photo)

BYU’s Fousseyni Traore came up big in Hawaii.

The 6-foot-6 freshman scored a career-high 19 points and brought down 12 rebounds as the Cougars held off Liberty 80-75 in the third-place game of the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day.

It was a nice bounce back for BYU, which dropped a 69-67 heartbreaker to Vanderbilt in Wednesday’s semifinals.

“It was very frustrating,” Traore said on the BYU Sports Network. “The coaches and Alex (Barcello), they just told us we had to pick it up. Everyone was just ready and everyone was hungry.”

Overhearing the conversation, Cougar coach Mark Pope interjected, “When Fous gets hungry, you’d better watch out, because Fous can eat.”

Traore ate well in all three games, posting a combined 39 points and 37 rebounds. For his efforts, Traore was named to the All-Tournament team. Against Liberty he did best his work down low, making 6 of 7 field goals and 7 of 8 from the foul line while adding an assist and a block.

He also credited point guard Te’Jon Lucas, who facilitated many of Traore’s baskets inside with a seven-assist performance.

Traore received a decorative oar for making the All-Tournament team.

“I’m going to split that,” Traore said. “One for Te’Jon and one for me.”

Trevin Knell contributed 15 points on a day the Cougars leading scorer, Alex Barcello was held to nine points. It was the first time Barcello failed to score in double figures this season.

BYU (11-3) and Liberty (8-5) battled back and forth deep into the second half but the Cougars finally took control in the last six minutes. Leading by just one at 59-58, BYU scored eight straight points, with five from Caleb Lohner and a 3-pointer by Gideon George, for a 67-58 lead with 3:47 to play.

Liberty, led by lightning-quick guard Darius McGhee, closed to within three, 69-66, with 1:25 to play but the Cougars responded. A big basket inside from Traore with 33.5 seconds remaining kept BYU in front 73-68 and the Cougars made 7 of 8 from the foul line to close it out.

BYU led 17-9 midway through the first half after five straight points by Seneca Knight, but Liberty quickly cut into that deficit and claimed a 23-21 advantage at the six-minute mark. Traore dunked on a nice feed from Lucas with ten seconds left and the Cougars trailed 33-32 at the half.

Lucas finished with 11 points and seven assists. The Cougars dominated on the boards, claiming a 35-23 advantage to offset a poor game from the 3-point line (3 of 19).

After coughing up 35 turnovers combined in the first two games in Honolulu, BYU had just 10 against Liberty.

“We gathered as a team after the Vanderbilt game and guys were emotional,” Pope said. “We talked about how we needed to find a new focus protecting the ball. Protecting the ball is one of our guiding principals. The guys answered the bell.”

McGee, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scored 92 points in three games to set a Diamond Head Classic record. That included a 41-point outburst – which tied the single-game mark set by BYU’s Chase Fischer in 2015 – against Stanford in a semifinal loss.

Stanford had to forfeit the championship game to Vanderbilt due to the COVID protocols and host Hawaii didn’t play in the seventh-place game against Northern Iowa for the same reason. The only other game on Saturday was the fifth-place contest, where Wyoming routed South Florida 77-57.

BYU will conclude preseason play on Wednesday in the Marriott Center against Westminster.

BYU forward Fousseyni Traore (45) tries to shoot between Liberty guard Darius McGhee (2) and forward Kyle Rode (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

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