BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) shoots as Utah State forward Justin Bean (34) defends in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
PROVO, Utah – A Utah State comeback was too little too late as they drop their second straight game to a West Coast Conference opponent, 82 to 71. It’s their 10th straight loss to in-state rival Brigham Young.
“Tough loss, really hard place to win at, but we fought really hard,” guard Sean Bairstow said.
With 6:24 left in the game, forward Brandon Horvath sunk a jumper cutting Brigham Young’s lead to seven. Both teams would go scoreless in the next three minutes. The Aggies had excellent chances to shrink the lead, including a couple of fast breaks after Cougar turnovers, but they couldn’t convert. Utah State also missed six free throws in the final seven minutes.
“Just didn’t knock them down. Need to get back in the gym and work on it,” Bairstow said.
The Aggies shot a season-low 45% from the free-throw line going 9 for 20 in the game. Odom thinks the Aggies’ energy levels hurt them at the charity stripe.
“Don’t underestimate the fatigue when you’re out there on the court and you’re down 20 and you’re chasing them around,” Odom said. “Sometimes you relax too much (after cutting down the lead) and then you see your buddy miss one and it’s like ‘Oh boy.”
The Aggies chipped the lead down to seven again, this time with 1:45 left after Horvath drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. The Cougars went down and scored on the ensuing possession and the Aggies ran out of time. Brigham Young sunk six free throws in the last 45 seconds to keep the Aggies at arm’s length.
“Our guys kept fighting and that’s what Aggies do. We got it to a point where it was seven,” Odom said. “We had it right to where we wanted it and then unfortunately we just didn’t finish it with baskets. We had a couple of turnovers mixed in with the obvious missed free throws.”
Bairstow had a season-high 11 points off the bench. Bairstow helped the Aggies get the lead down to seven as he made three baskets during Utah State’s 23-10 run in the second half.
“Today was obviously his best game and you can kinda see the potential there that he has,” Odom said. “I was really proud with the way he played today.”
Bairstow has found his way back in the rotation after coming back from a lacerated kidney and broken wrist.
“Fatigue wise I’m definitely, definitely feeling it, but as the game went on I kinda got my wind back and you know fought through it,” Bairstow said.
Forward Justin Bean had an impressive start on offense, scoring 16 in the first half. He also played a strong presence defensively as he recorded three steals. Bean was much quieter after halftime and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Forward Brandon Horvath had another solid night. He picked up 14 points, an assist and seven rebounds in the losing effort. He did have a tough time handling the ball, leading the team with four turnovers.
Guard Alex Barcello led the Cougars with 17 points. He also recorded four assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Guard Trevin Knell was a surprise player for Brigham Young. He found success with mismatches and open space after Cougar screens. He was 4-5 from beyond the arc which helped the Cougars build their lead in the first half. He finished with 13 points, an assist and four rebounds.
“He’s a good player. We certainly didn’t want him shooting open shots like he did,” Odom said.
Brigham Young took control early in the game and never fully relinquished their lead. The Cougars came out strong building a nine-point lead in the first four minutes, 15-9. Utah State responded with an 11-2 run tying the game at 17 with 12 minutes left in the first half. Brigham Young put the pedal to the metal the rest of the half, building a 12 point lead going into the locker room 45-33. It was the Aggies’ first time trailing at the break this season.
“They played extremely well right out of the gate. They put a lot of pressure on us offensively,” Odom said.
The Aggie defense struggled during the Cougar run, especially getting around screens. Utah State couldn’t get through them or switch around them very effectively.
“Didn’t play our type of basketball in the first half defensively. We were not really good at all,” Odom said. “We were on our heels from the very beginning.”
The Aggie offense had a tough time keeping possession as they totaled 20 turnovers during the game, nine coming in the first half.
“We had too many turnovers. Bean kinda kept us somewhat in striking distance with his 16 points in the first half,” Odom said.
Utah State’s defense improved in the second half. This was reflected in the Cougars’ shooting percentage dropping nearly 16 percentage points compared to their first-half total.
“I think we kinda got used to what they were doing. They were running a lot of the same handoff motions a lot of the game,” Bairstow said.
With 6:14 left in the game, Brigham Young led by seven, 69-62, and the Aggies played excellent defense, but they couldn’t take advantage of it on offense.
“We got eight stops in a row and didn’t score on any of those offensive possessions on the way back,” Bairstow said.
With the loss, Utah State drops to 6-3 on the season. The Aggies return home on Dec. 11 to take on New Orleans (3-6) in the Spectrum.