Arizona transfer Alex Barcello was dynamic in his first official game for BYU, tossing in 17 points on 7 of 9 from the field to lead the Cougars to a 76-58 victory against Cal State Fullerton in the season opener at the Marriott Center on Tuesday.
Barcello was 3 of 4 from the 3-point line and added three steals, two blocks and two assists. He led an 11 of 24 (46 percent) performance from beyond the arc for the Cougars.
“I was just playing with the flow of the game,” said Barcello, whose career high was 16 points while at Arizona. “I wasn’t hunting for shots and I was just trying to stay in the flow of the game, stay in our actions and trust the plays. I look at it as a blessing to come out here and play with such great guys and on such a great team.”
TJ Haws scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for BYU and Connor Harding had all 11 of his points in the first half to go along with eight rebounds.
“Alex was fantastic,” Haws said. “In games there are these little lulls and his energy is so contagious. What he brings on the defensive end is he really sparks our team. We keep talking about how we win games and we do that by getting stops and playing defense. His energy is unbelievable and spreads to every guy. What he does on the offensive end, he makes shots. I’m just super grateful to have him.”
The first half was sloppy as openers often are with both teams committing ten turnovers. BYU was able to get control with a couple of hot 3-point shooting stretches. The Cougars made four – two each from Barcello and Harding – to break out to a 15-10 lead at the 12:15 mark. A 12-0 spurt later in the half was powered by 3s from Barcello, Harding and Zac Seljaas and the BYU advantage was 31-18 with 2:52 to play. The Titans went more than five minutes without scoring in that time. Barcello tossed in a runner with six seconds left in the half and the Cougars led 38-24 at the break.
“I was really proud of us,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “When we keep teams under 30 points we’re feeling really good about our defensive effort. We were really solid on the glass and outrebound them by one in the first half. We were pretty solid in transition with some exceptions. I thought we did a really nice job protecting the middle. Historically, Cal State Fullerton tries to penetrate the middle really hard.
Defensively, our focus was pretty solid all night long and that’s where we gain confidence.”
BYU shot 8 of 15 (53 percent) from the 3-point line in the first half with Barcello and Harding making three each. Both scored 11 points to lead the Cougars at halftime.
BYU made five of its first six field goals and was off and running in the second half. A nice feed from Dalton Nixon to Haws for a layup gave the Cougars a 51-33 lead at the 15:11 mark. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Nixon and Blaze Nield, followed by easy buckets inside by Jake Toolson and Barcello, pushed BYU to its largest lead, 24 points, at 65-41 with 7:04 remaining.
“Our energy was really great and we really pride ourselves on our defense,” Haws said. “We’ve been working on our defense since May, working on our footwork every single day, just trusting what we worked on and trusting each other.”
Jake Toolson had seven points and added four assists and five rebounds for BYU. Senior forward Zac Seljaas, who suffered a broken foot on the team’s trip to Italy in August, played just over 17 minutes and contributed six points and eight rebounds.
BYU will host former Mountain West Conference foe San Diego State on Saturday.