The BYU men’s basketball team finished the season strong, despite the ups and downs throughout the year.
There were disappointing losses that included being on the losing end of a buzzer-beater. However, there were also highlights like the game-winner against Utah State and big victories in the NIT tournament.
A season that could have ended on March 8 was extended all the way to April 2 when the Cougars fell short in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. The last time BYU played as late as April 2 was its first season, in 1903.
“I believe that the most important thing when we came home (from Las Vegas) was to make sure that these guys still had a real strong belief that their coaches thought that this was a good team,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “We were really positive with the guys, we addressed some real issues, and the guys responded to that. But this is a real reflection of the character of these guys, the character of the leaders of this team, the characters of the seniors in Brock (Zylstra), Craig (Cusick) and Brandon (Davies).”
BYU continued to hold practice every day the week following the fall to San Diego in the WCC quarterfinals, not knowing if it would earn a bid to the NIT. The Cougars made the best of their practices and played their best three games of the season in the NIT against Washington, Mercer and Southern Miss.
When Mel Hutchins and Roland Minson, BYU legends and teammates on the 1951 NIT Championship team, had their jerseys retired, they emphasized the importance of playing together as a team. Since then, the Cougars have grown together and peaked in the postseason when it mattered most.
“It was tough in the locker room after to have our last moments together as a team,” Matt Carlino said following the Baylor loss. “I have a great relationship with all these guys. It’s as much losing the game as it is not seeing them all again for a while.”
It was disappointing not making it to the NCAA tournament after making it six years in a row, but the season was still exciting for Rose.
“I don’t remember being any more excited than we are right now,” Rose said before heading to New York. “This is really good for our team, it’s really good for our program. … There’s also a big part of, in our program, how are you going to deal with disappointment and how you respond to that.”
This was BYU’s 11th NIT appearance and first trip to the semifinals since 1966, when the Cougars won the championship title. Despite not making it to the NIT finals, BYU put its eight-straight, 20-win season in the books with a 24–12 overall record this year.
The Cougars will have to fill the void of their seniors, but the returners hope to keep the BYU basketball program’s success moving forward.
“We created a lot of momentum, and I just hope it carries into next year,” Carlino said.