After leading for much of the second half, the BYU men’s basketball team needed just a few plays down the stretch to knock off San Diego State Saturday afternoon at the Marriott Center.
Instead, it was the Aztecs who came through when it counted.
Thanks to big 3-pointers by junior guard Jordan Schakel and senior KJ Feagin as well as big free throws by junior forward Matt Mitchell, San Diego State overcame a late 4-point deficit to beat the Cougars, 76-71.
“It was a super, super-disappointing outcome to this game,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “I’m proud of my guys’ fight but it was disappointing that there were things we had staring us in the face but we weren’t quite smart enough to figure a couple of things out. We just have to get better.”
The Cougars only made one basket in the final 2:15 of the contest — a dunk by senior forward Jake Toolson — as they simply couldn’t find answers and the Aztecs edged in front.
“We weren’t playing with the same pace and force we were when we started the second half,” Toolson said. “Offensively we’ve got to execute and play with pace. Defensively we have to rebound and be there on the catch.”
Pope pointed to three specific issues that BYU struggled with that cost the Cougars the game.
“We just could not locate Schakel,” he said. “That was really hard for us. We could not grab a rebound. It was really hard for us. We got a little sticky offensively. We got a little anxious and force it a little bit. We stalled scoring the ball down the stretch.”
BYU ended up getting outrebounded 43-27, while San Diego State had a 15-4 edge in offensive rebounds that turned into a plus-9 advantage in second-chance points.
“When we have that pace offensively and baskets are going in, it gets the energy going on defense and helps us to get stops and rebounds,” Cougar senior guard Zac Seljaas said. “We have to keep going with that and keep fighting.”
The Aztecs got a huge second half from Schakel, who scored 17 second-half points, including hitting all five of his 3-point attempts.
“That’s a problem with me in terms of having my team disciplined enough to understand what is happening,” Pope said. “You can tell your guys that this guy is getting no more shots but that isn’t a coach’s job. A coach’s job is putting it inside their DNA where it becomes a part of them.”
The Cougars struggled to get in rhythm in the first half, going 8-for-22 from the field (36.4%) and making just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc (30%) as the home team trailed 36-29 at the break.
But BYU didn’t let the Aztecs build a daunting lead thanks to scrappy defense and its ability to get to the foul line. The Cougars made 10-of-12 free throws and snagged six steals to stay within striking distance.
BYU found itself down by nine points early in the second half and having a tough time getting on track.
But basketball can be a funny game sometimes. You never know when a team is going to catch fire.
BYU suddenly exploded offensively while shutting down the Aztecs defensively, going on a game-changing 21-3 run to surge to a 9-point lead.
After being down 40-31, the big run began with a strong layup by sophomore forward Kolby Lee as he was fouled, allowing him to complete the 3-point play.
The Cougars then got a 3-pointer from senior Zac Seljaas, a steal and a layup by senior TJ Haws, a 3-pointer by senior forward Jake Toolson and another trey by Seljaas.
The Aztecs got a bomb from long range but BYU junior guard Alex Barcello drained another shot from downtown and Toolson tacked on a soft layup high off the backboard to make the score 52-43 in favor of the Cougars.
In the end, however, that didn’t prove to be enough.
“It wasn’t big in this game because we ended up losing but I hope it was good for us for teaching,” Pope said. “We know what we have to be as a team right now; it’s just a question of how long it takes us to believe it. We have to be a team that plays with pace, that has ball movement and that trusts the simple play really quickly over and over again. That’s what you saw, so that 21-3 run is really important if we look at it as that is who we want to be.”
BYU was led by 18 points, four rebounds and four assists from Toolson, part of a balanced team effort as seven Cougars scored five points or more in the contest.
San Diego State was paced by 19 points from Schakel while junior guard Malachi Flynn added 17 points for the Aztecs.
BYU now will look to improve as it next hosts Southern Utah at the Marriott Center in Provo on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.