It was one of those preseason games where BYU looked like world beaters for part of the game but couldn’t buy a basket for a while, too.
Fortunately for the Cougars the good moments far outweighed the bad and resulted in a 87-71 victory against Texas Southern Monday in the Marriott Center.
Brandon Averette provided a lot of those good moments, scoring a career-high 30 points to lead BYU. The Tigers had their hands full trying to contain the Cougars down low and also paid a lot of attention to leading scorer Alex Barcello.
Averette made the Tigers pay, scoring 23 of his 30 points in the second half while making 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 9 from beyond the arc after halftime.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple, just trying to find my way in the system to shoot open shots,” Averette said. “I try to pick my spots here and there, get to the free throw line a little bit and just have fun out there. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s been helping me.”
Matt Haarms added 16 points, Richard Harward had 13 and Barcello contributed 10 points and a career-best 10 assists.
“BA (Averette) is one of the most clutch players I’ve ever met,” Harward said. “He’s an absolute baller. There were rumors that people were skeptical when he came to BYU, but I knew him when we played at UVU and I knew he was going to be a legend when he came over here.”
BYU coach Mark Pope added: “They (Texas Southern) were double teaming ball screens and dedicating a body and a half to Alex. BA decided that was not going to be the right option for them tonight.”
The Tigers, with its top seven players Division I transfers, were picked to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference this season and played hard. The Cougars could never quite relax in the game but led by as many as 22 points.
BYU (8-2) started off the game very efficiently on the offensive end, attacking the Tigers first inside with Haarms and Kolby Lee then finding range from the 3-point line. The Cougars were 10-of-13 from the field (77%) and 4-of-6 (67%) from the 3-point line to start off. The lead was 13, 28-15, when Harward powered in for a basket with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. At one point, BYU made seven consecutive shots.
The Cougars struggled shooting the ball the rest of the half, making just 1 of 8 from the 3-point line and Texas Southern crept back to within 10, 42-32, at the break.
BYU opened the second half by outscoring the Tigers 13-3. Averette completed a 3-point play and then hit a 3-pointer, followed by a basket from Haarms and a 3-point play from Harward for a 55-35 lead at the 16:05 mark.
Later, Harward fed Caleb Lohner for a basket and the next time down the floor Lohner returned the favor, dishing to Harward for a two-handed flush and a 61-39 advantage with 13:08 to play.
The Cougars got sloppy on both ends and Texas Southern went on a 13-0 run, cutting a 22-point deficit to nine (61-52) on a rebound basket by Michael Weathers with 8:49 remaining. A pair of 3-pointers by Averette and Connor Harding pushed the BYU lead back up to 15, 67-52, with 7:20 to go.
The Tigers sliced the lead to nine again, 69-60, with 5:56 to play but Averette continued his hot shooting, scoring seven straight points for a 76-61 advantage at the 4:38 remaining.
It was a strong performance coming off the biggest win of the season last Friday at No. 18 San Diego State.
“I was really pleased with our team,” Pope said. “I had a lot of anxiety for this game. It was really a big test of our team’s maturity. We believe every game we play in the course of the season the next game is going to be harder. People who don’t believe that and honor that get stung. We answered the bell and I’m really proud of them.”
BYU will close its preseason schedule on Wednesday with an in-state matchup against Weber State at Vivint SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
Michael Weathers led Texas Southern (2-5) with 19 points and Yahuza Rasas added 15 points and 12 rebounds.