BYU Basketball: Cougars rescue senior night with great second half

Honestly, in the first half of Saturday’s BYU-Saint Mary’s game at Senior Night at the Marriott Center, there wasn’t much to text home.

Fortunately for the Cougars, it turned out to be another memorable night for the seniors.

All’s well That ends well.

Last February, No. 2 Gonzaga’s epic loss at BYU unleashed a courtroom madness on Senior Night.

A year later, the Cougars overcame a slow shooting start to beat Saint Mary’s, 65-51, in front of a crowd of just under 2,000.

“We have special nights for seniors, right?” said coach Mark Pope. “It was a different feeling than last year.”

Yes it was.

In the first half, it was especially difficult on the offensive end for the three seniors: Alex Barcello, Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette.

The trio combined to go 0-for-11 in the first half as the Cougars advanced to a 23-point first half.

But in the second half, those seniors helped turn things around quickly.

Meanwhile, sophomore Trevin Knell had a great night, scoring a career-high 15 points, including 4 out of 5 from 3-point range.

In the second half, Averette, Haarms and Barcello combined to go 10 of 15 from the floor and combined to score 26 points.

The Cougars made nine of their first 12 shots in the second half to take their first double-digit lead of the game.

As a team, BYU scored 42 points in the final 20 minutes. While the Cougars shot 23% in the first half, they shot 67% in the second half, including 5 of 6 triples.

“We continue to be aggressive,” Averette said. “We get going.”

So what was happening in the first half?

“It was the whole atmosphere of Senior Night. It was kind of weird, ”Averette said. “We knew the shots would eventually land on us.”

For the game, Haarms finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots (all blocks came in the first half). Additionally, Haarms eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau in his college career, including three seasons at Purdue, and now has 1,004 points.

Averette contributed 11 points and four assists. Barcello, two nights after posting a career-high scoring performance of his career with 29 points and 7 of 7 shots from 3-point territory, had eight points to accompany five rebounds and five assists.

Gideon George contributed 11 points and made three 3s.

The seniors were honored before Saturday’s game, as expected. Then, with 51 seconds remaining, Pope took the three seniors out of the game for one more standing ovation.

After the game, Pope organized an impromptu celebration after the game. First, he addressed the crowd, thanking fans for their support throughout the season. He spoke of the elders.

“The time will come, when appropriate, to recruit them for one more year,” Pope said.

Because the NCAA has stopped all player eligibility this season due to the pandemic, all three could technically return for another season.

Pope then gave the three seniors time to share their feelings at the end of Senior Night, which caught them off guard. But they spoke from the heart. They expressed their gratitude for everything that has happened this season and also looked to the future.

“Business is not done,” said Barcello.

With the victory, the Cougars (19-5, 10-3) won their fourth consecutive game and took second place in the upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The first half seemed invented in the laboratory of Saint Mary’s coach, Randy Bennett.

From the beginning, BYU played directly into the hands of Saint Mary (13-8, 4-6), as the Gaelics made the game ugly.

Saint Mary’s opened the game by shooting 1 of 10 from the ground, but only trailing 6-5 from the start. The Gaels finished their previous game with the Cougars 1 of 12 shots and then got off to a rocky start Saturday.

But BYU didn’t shoot much better. While Knell nailed a pair of 3-pointers, BYU’s first 2-point field goal didn’t come until the 9:33 mark of the first half on a rejection from George. It was also the Cougars’ first point since a starter.

At halftime, BYU led 23-18. The Cougars fired 7 of 30 shots from the field in the first half. BYU and Saint Mary’s combined for 50 rebounds at intermission.

Former BYU coach Dave Rose, who suffered a stroke on New Year’s Eve, attended Saturday’s game.

Overall, it was another memorable night for BYU seniors.

“I have such deep affection for these three older people,” Pope said.

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