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Fans flocking to Marriott Center for BYU men’s hoops, despite COVID restrictions

By Darnell Dickson - | Jan 12, 2022

The question comes inevitably in the news conference after a big win in the Marriott Center:

“What was it like playing in front of that big crowd?”

The ROC (the “Roar of Cougars,” the student cheering section) arrived early at the Marriott Center and 17,544 watched BYU slug it out with Saint Mary’s on Saturday, with the Cougars earning a 52-43 victory.

BYU is No. 9 in the country in attendance, averaging 15,389 fans in eight home games this season. Every other school in the Top 10 is from a Power 5 conference.

“Man, it’s amazing,” Cougar guard Te’Jon Lucas said. “Playing in front of that crowd is like extra energy out there and we can’t thank Cougar Nation enough. The ROC and all the fans that traveled here from out of state and in state, you don’t get that everywhere. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the country right now getting 17,000-plus fans in their conference games. We’re blessed to have those fans.”

Lucas, in particular, can appreciate a large crowd. When he was playing at Milwaukee during the 2018-19 season, an average of 1,432 fans saw home games at UMW Panther Arena, which seats 10,783.

The last sellout (18,987) at the Marriott Center was on Feb. 22, 2020 as BYU upset No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78.

During Dave Rose’s last year as head coach, the Cougars averaged 11,958 fans at home games. In Mark Pope’s first year running the program (2019-20), the average was 12,626.

The pandemic severely limited attendance during the 2020-21 season and BYU just announced new policies for fans attending games beginning Jan. 20. The school is going to require proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry into all on-campus events. It’s highly doubtful the Marriott Center will see a sellout under those circumstances.

Meanwhile, Pope acknowledged the support his Cougars have gotten this season.

“I’m forcing myself and I never do this,” he said. “I never hear anything (during a game). The last few games it’s like I’ve got to find a second. I’ve just got to find a moment in the game to just appreciate what’s happening in this building with these guys. They’re helping make it happen and Cougar Nation is making it happen in this building.

“I’m so happy for St. Mary’s. I am so happy that those kids are working really, really hard and the fact that they get to come in this building and experience the highest most perfect, wonderful college basketball atmosphere. What’s happened in this building is incredible. And it’s a gift to us. I mean, it’s a massive gift to us. These kids work so hard man and to be able to feel the energy in this building, oh, my goodness, it’s great.”

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