Almost a year ago, nearly 20,000 fans showed up at the Marriott Center to watch BYU take down No. 1 Gonzaga.
Thursday’s 79-73 victory against San Francisco wasn’t nearly as epic but it did feature nearly 1,800 fans, the first time more than family have been allowed in the gym this season.
What they watched and cheered for was a record-setting performance by senior guard Alex Barcello and a tight game where BYU could never truly put the Dons away.
Barcello led the Cougars (9-3 WCC, 18-5 overall) with a career-high 29 points, including 7 of 7 from the 3-point line. That’s the most 3-pointers made without a miss in BYU history.
BYU coach Mark Pope said Barcello didn’t miss a shot in shootaround before the game and that marksmanship continued a few hours later.
“It was fun,” Barcello said. “I have such a great group of guys around me, I give the credit to them. They found me for wide open 3’s. Guys were making the extra pass and being aggressive driving into the lane. We just did a great job of that as a whole. For my part I was able to bang quite a few shots.”
Freshman Caleb Lohner, who was spectacular in the first half and scored all 13 of his points in the first 20 minutes, said: “Alex is a gnarly dude. Man, he’s good. When he’s hitting shots it’s super fun to be on the court with him. It’s also fun to be in the background seeing him put in extra work and seeing it translate in the games.”
The first half featured 13 lead changes and a whole lot of Lohner. The 6-8 freshman continued his stellar play and provided plenty of first-half highlights, going for 13 points on 5 of 6 from the field and grabbing six rebounds.
Spencer Johnson came up with a steal and fed Lohner for a vicious two-handed dunk on the break late in the first half. Lohner also took a pass from Connor Harding and while still in the air dumped the ball in the basket for a 37-29 lead with 1:32 remaining. BYU led 41-33 at the half.
The Cougars shot 67% (16 of 24) from the field in the field half and outrebounded San Francisco 16-7.
Brandon Averette drove in for a layup and Gideon George hit a 3-pointer to start the second half, pushing the Cougar lead to 13, 46-33. But the Cougars struggled to shake the Dons and most of the second half was BYU getting out to a double-digit lead only to see USF reel them back in.
Julian Rishwain, who came into the game averaging six points, scored a team-high 25 for the Dons and kept hitting big shots to keep his team close.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from George and Barcello extended the Cougars lead to 16, 65-49, at the 6:33 mark. The pesky Dons cut that deficit to seven, but Barcello splashed a 3-pointer and a jumper for a 70-57 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
Barcello scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half, including 15 in the final four minutes of the game to keep the Cougars on top against the hard-charging Dons.
“I don’t know what to do with this kid,” Pope said. “I’m so grateful not to play against him. I’m not sure what to do with him.”
BYU players said they enjoyed finally having fans in the Marriott Center.
“When I banged in that first three I shot an arrow up in the stands and it brought back flashbacks of last year,” Barcello said. “The energy was amazing. As good as our fake noise has been it was definitely a lot better having people in the stands.”
BYU closes the regular season on Saturday with a senior night game against Saint Mary’s in the Marriott Center. Seniors Haarms, Barcello and Averette will be honored.