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Second half struggles result in BYU men’s hoops loss to USC

By Darnell Dickson - | Nov 23, 2022

Tim Aylen/Bahamas Visual Services via AP

USC's Kobe Johnson, center, and BYU's Spencer Johnson, left, and Trey Stewart watch the ball head out of bounds during an NCAA college basketball game in the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.

The story line for BYU men’s basketball during a key stretch in the second half of its Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinal game against USC goes like this: Can’t make jumpers, can’t defend jumpers.

That’s a bad combination and led to an 82-76 loss for the Cougars on Wednesday in the Bahamas.

“I feel like we lost our defensive intensity in the second half,” BYU’s Jaxson Robinson said. “In the first half, we did a great job of holding down those two guys (Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson). In the second half we came out and didn’t have that same intensity we had in the first half and it really hurt us.”

BYU was right there against the Trojans, trailing just 41-39 when Fous Traore scored on a power move with 16:29 to play. Then the wheels fell off as BYU suddenly couldn’t make a shot and USC couldn’t miss, the Men of Troy going on an 11-0 spurt consisting mainly of perimeter jump shots for a 50-39 advantage with 12:12 to play.

Ellis, who had just six points at halftime, scored 21 in the second half as the Trojans pulled away.

“Boogie, we couldn’t find an answer for him,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “We wanted to give away long, challenged twos and Boogie was just like, ‘Yep, give them all to me, I’ll make them,’ and he did. He was almost 80% in that area.”

Meanwhile, BYU was struggling through a 5 for 18 stretch (28%) from the field during the most critical part of the game. The misses piled up on the Cougars end of the floor and the Trojans kept making jumpers. A rebound basket by Josh Morgan and a fast break layup by Peterson pushed USC to its largest lead at 70-52 with 4:36 remaining.

BYU scrambled to cut the Trojan lead to eight points, 75-67, with two 3-pointers by Robinson and another by Rudi Williams with 1:36 to play but could get no closer.

“In the second half, we just lost our focus on the glass,” Pope said. “We were really effective on holding them to just three offensive rebounds in the first half, and in the second half we gave up eight. Every time we were trying to make some progress in the game, they would come up with a really important offensive rebound and that just kills you.”

Spencer Johnson led BYU with a BYU career-best 18 points and Robinson also notched a career high with 16, all in the second half. Williams added 15 points, four rebounds and six assists and Gideon George scored 10 of his 12 in the second half.

Ellis tied a career-high with 27 points and Peterson added 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for USC, which scored 17 points off of 17 BYU turnovers.

USC opened with a 7-0 lead but Johnson scored seven points in a 9-0 run and BYU jumped on top 9-7. The Trojans got out to a 22-17 advantage with under 10 minutes to play in the half on a basket by Peterson but couldn’t build on that led. The Cougars stayed close two late free throws by Johnson brought them to a one-point deficit, 31-30, at the break.

In other quarterfinals in the Battle 4 Atlantis, No. 3 Kansas defeated North Carolina State 80-74, Wisconsin topped Dayton 43-42 and No. 22 Tennessee routed Butler 71-45.

USC (4-1) moves on to play against Tennessee and Kansas meets Wisconsin in the other semifinal. BYU (3-2) will take on Butler at 4:30 p.m. MT on Thanksgiving Day in the consolation round. The game can be streamed on ESPN3 and will also be carried by BYU Radio and KSL Radio 102.7 FM/1160 AM.

“My guys, they have a ton of fight,” Pope said. “They’re beautiful kids and they’re going to get better because they want to get better so badly. Their going to get more comfortable with each other because they’re going to mature.

“The biggest thing for us right now is we’ve got to free up our minds and our hearts of all the concerns and worries and frustrations so that we can have a great big capital T-R-Y, and we didn’t have that it some cases.”

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