SALT LAKE CITY — For much of the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday, Utah State sat back in a 1-3-1 zone and dared BYU to make enough 3-pointers to win the game.
The Cougars didn’t make every one — just 5 of 16 from distance in the second half — but made the one that counted. Alex Barcello calmly drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 25.2 seconds to play and BYU held on for a 68-64 victory.
“Time after time, Alex comes up with game-winning plays for us,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “He was great defensively tonight and he made big shots. He really helped us against the 1-3-1 by having the courage to be a little bit aggressive. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys for the whole time fighting through adversity and some stickiness and just some weirdness and getting a win.”
A big block by Dalton Nixon on Justin Bean with 47.6 seconds to play set up the Cougars on the offensive end leading just 65-64. The Cougars had struggled to attack the Aggies zone but Barcello’s ability to penetrate eventually led to some good looks down the stretch. On the game-winning play, Barcello moved through the key and set up in the corner. Nixon found him with a pass and Barcello — who was just 2 of 8 from the field before that shot — didn’t hesitate in hitting what would turn out to be the game-winner.
“Unbelievable,” Barcello said. “I didn’t start off the game too hot but I love my guys, I love my team and I love my coaching staff. They pick me up. They told me to trust it. They believe in me and they knew my shots were eventually going to fall. Nobody came out on me so I just shot the shot knowing that my teammates believed in me and it went in and luckily we won the game. We’re happy for it.”
Yoeli Childs, who led the Cougars (9-4) with 20 points —16 in the second half — and 10 rebounds said he never doubted.
“I knew it was in,” Childs said of Barcello’s shot “One hundred percent. He’s a shooter and he gets up shots every day. This dude has just an unbelievable work ethic. This summer we did two-a-days with practice starting at 6 a.m. He’d be there at 4:30 every single day getting shots up. So at the end of the game, with a moment like that, you just know you have all the confidence in the world in him.”
TJ Haws added 16 points and five assists for BYU, which made 11 of 28 (39 percent) from the 3-point line overall.
Alphonso Anderson led Utah State (10-2) with 14 points and Abel Porter contributed 13. Leading scorer Sam Merrill (18 points per game) finished with 11 on just 2 of 11 from the field.
Utah State’s defense tried to take away Childs in the first half but the Cougars took advantage from the 3-point line. BYU was 6 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes with three from Haws and two from Connor Harding. Haws led all scorers in the first half with 13 points on 5 of 8 from the field.
BYU took a 13-6 lead early on after a Haws jumper but Utah State moved to a 20-17 advantage on a 3-pointer by Anderson at the 8:43 mark. The Cougars led 26-22 after a 3-point play by Zac Seljaas but Porter and Brock Miller made back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Aggies a 28-26 advantage with 5:26 to play.
BYU held Utah State scoreless the rest of the way and went on a 9-0 run with baskets from Childs, Harding (a 3-pointer), Haws and Jake Toolson for a 35-28 lead at halftime.
Childs scored seven of BYU’s first nine points to open the second half but Utah State stayed close by hitting eight of its first nine shots, tying the game at 50-all on a free throw by Neemias Queta at the 12:30 mark. The Cougars defense found some footing and held the Aggies without a basket for a seven-minute stretch, surging to a 57-52 lead on a Childs make with 7:38 to play.
A pair of free throws by Merrill brought the Aggies to within two, 60-58, with 4:02 remaining. With under a minute to play and BYU leading 65-64, USU got a pair of good looks under the basket but Nixon blocked Bean’s attempt and Queta’s follow also missed. Toolson secured the rebound and BYU set up for the game-winning play.
BYU has won 15 straight games on the home floor the Utah Jazz.
“It’s probably because we get a lot of fans that come here,” Barcello said. “It feels like a home game for us. I keep saying it but I love this team because of how hard we play. We bring it. We’re not the tallest team or the most athletic team but we really come to fight together.”
In the earlier game in the final edition of the Beehive Classic, Timmy Allen scored 19 points to lead Utah (8-2) past Weber State. Jerrick Harding led the Wildcats (3-6) with 17 points and Cody John added 15.
BYU hosts Weber State next Saturday in the Marriott Center.