Adversity has been a constant companion for the BYU men’s basketball team this season.
And the hits just keep on coming.
Cougar senior forward Yoeli Childs, who already sat out the first nine games of the season due to an NCAA suspension, suffered an open dislocation of his index finger in practice on Tuesday and is out indefinitely. Even without its leading scorer and rebounder BYU pushed Saint Mary’s to overtime but ended up on the short end of an 87-83 score on Thursday, its sixth straight loss in Moraga.
It was a valiant effort by the short-handed Cougars but valiant efforts don’t impress the NCAA Tournament committee, especially when you play in a mid-major conference. You’ve got to win and BYU missed out on a golden opportunity to earn an important victory on the road.
“We came in here and battled courageously,” BYU coach Mark Pope said in his post-game radio interview. “This team makes me proud every time they step on the floor because they give their whole heart and soul to this game. Our job is to go win games and it doesn’t matter who is on the floor. We have to win games. I have to do a better job. We just have to win this game.”
Trailing by three with 9.2 seconds to play in the extra session, T.J. Haws forced up a 3-pointer from the deep corner that rimmed out and Dalton Nixon grabbed the long rebound. He passed to Jake Toolson at the 3-point line but the clock expired before a shot could be attempted.
Haws scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime and Toolson had 18 of his 24 in that same stretch. BYU trailed by 9 late in the second half before making a big run to force the overtime.
“We had to battle frustration but we came together as a team,” Cougar senior forward Zach Seljaas said. “We fought as a team. The game didn’t come out the way we wanted but we fought through what we had and we have to learn from each thing we did.”
Jordan Ford led Saint Mary’s with 24 points and made 4 of 8 from the 3-point line. Malik Fitts scored 17 and Dan Fotu, who averages less than four points per game, had 16.
Saint Mary’s had a 9-point lead, 71-62, after Ford knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws at the 4:18 mark of the second half. But BYU rallied and closed to within one, 76-75, on a Haws jumper with 18.4 seconds remaining.
Fitts made one of two free throws with 15 seconds that left the Gaels up 2, 77-75. Haws blew past Ford with a nasty crossover and drove in for a dunk to tie the game at 77 with 6.6 seconds to play. Ford attempted a game winner to beat the buzzer but the ball was swatted away by Nixon and Tanner Krebbs missed a 3-pointer after the deflection to send the game into overtime.
BYU played Saint Mary’s evenly in the first half despite shooting just 41% (12 of 29) overall and of course, missing Childs. BYU took its first lead at 17-15 on a Toolson layup at the 10:10 mark. Saint Mary’s pushed out to a six-point lead, 29-23, when Tanner Krebs made back-to-back 3-pointers. The Cougars stayed close and tied the game at 31-all when Alex Barcello made a triple with 2:26 to play. Nixon tied the game at 34-34 with 1:22 to play and had the ball with 18 seconds left with a chance to go in at halftime with the lead. But BYU turned the ball over and allowed Ford to toss in a long 3-pointer for a 37-34 advantage for the Gaels.
“We struggled in a lot of categories,” Pope said. “In the first half, we struggled on the glass, especially in the second 10-minute segment. On offense we went back to the way we started the season but we didn’t get our guys in the flow we needed to win the game. Jake and T.J. did a great job getting downhill against them, especially in the second half.”
Three of the Cougars five losses have come on the road in overtime this season (Boise State,Utah and Saint Mary’s).
BYU (1-1 WCC, 12-5 overall) hosts Portland on Saturday at the Marriott Center, while Saint Mary’s (2-1, 15-3) takes on Santa Clara at home.