Two bad losses in a row would have been an eyesore on the BYU men’s basketball NCAA Tournament resume.
The Cougars avoided that fate — but just barely — on Saturday at the Marriott Center, outlasting a hard-working Pacific team 95-87 in double overtime.
After shooting poorly from the foul line most of the game, BYU sank all nine free throws it took in the second extra session and Brandon Averette drilled a dagger 3-pointer for an eight-point lead with 1:15 to play, finally letting Cougar Nation relax after a game that kept them clenched for almost two and a half hours.
“A perfect way to explain this game, honestly, was that it was a roller coaster,” Averette said. “There were a lot of ups and downs but it’s all about how you respond. These are my favorite type of games, to see who’s going to give in first. We weren’t going to give in. We weren’t scared to lose. We were going to battle to the end and be good with the outcome.”
Averette led BYU (5-2 WCC, 14-4 overall) with 24 points and added five assists. His backcourt mate, Alex Barcello, scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime and contributed nine rebounds and seven assists.
“These guys have worked really hard to put themselves in a terrific spot,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “We’re in a really good spot in terms of trying to accomplish some of our goals. Every game is a must win for every team in college basketball. Even more than thinking down the road about seeding, or tournament bids, all that kind of stuff, these guys found a way to care about just right now.
“These guys have done a really nice job of saying, ‘we are not going to relent. We’re going to keep pushing and then live with what happens.’ I thought that was really special today.”
It was a game that featured long droughts on offense for both teams, a boatload of critical misses from the foul line by BYU and one of the more obscure violations you will ever see with 43 seconds left in regulation and the score tied, courtesy of referee David Hall.
Hall whistled BYU’s Connor Harding for being the first player to touch the ball after not making an effort to stay inbounds, a call which probably hasn’t been assessed since before there was a 3-point line.
But, back to the game …
Pacific led 32-31 at halftime, much of that lead a result of the Cougars’ dismal finish shooting the ball (2 for 16) in the latter part of the first half.
BYU led by as many as four early in the second half. But the Tigers — the worst offense in the West Coast Conference statistically — punched above their weight and made nine 3-pointers, most of them timely ones to keep BYU from pulling away.
The game was tied at 64 when the Cougars forced a miss and had an offensive possession with 6.1 seconds remaining. Barcello was knocked over trying to get the ball, which forced freshman Caleb Lohner to drive to the basket. He was fouled with 3.2 seconds to play but missed both foul shots. Pacific missed a desperation shot to force overtime.
In the first extra session, BYU trailed 74-73 and had a chance to take the lead with 35 seconds remaining but Richard Harward missed a pair of free throws. The Cougars had to foul Justin Moore, who made one of two for a 75-73 Tigers lead with 24.1 seconds to go. Barcello sped inside for a layup to tie the game at 75 and BYU forced another Pacific miss to get to the second overtime.
Matt Haarms scored inside and Spencer Johnson converted a 3-point play for an 80-75 lead. The Cougars made enough free throws to finally put the game away.
“We said the same thing coming into every huddle,” Barcello said. “We need to keep our fight and stay hungry. Eventually they (Pacific) are going to break. We’re not going to break, we’ve worked too hard. We kept telling ourselves we’re going to win this game. We play basketball because we love to be in these moments.”
Haarms finished with 13 points and eight rebounds for BYU, which was 9 of 12 (75%) from the field in the overtime sessions.
Moore led Pacific (2-3, 5-4) with 18 points and Jahbril Price-Noel added 16. The Tigers three main post players — Jordan Bell, Jeremiah Bailey and Nigel Shadd — all fouled out by the start of the second overtime.
BYU is scheduled to play at San Diego on Tuesday and Portland on Thursday, but with four WCC teams (Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount) having paused activities due to COVID-19 protocol, scheduling is always subject to change.