BYU men’s basketball upsets Gonzaga 69-68 in thriller

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BYU forward Nate Austin, right, dunks against Saint Mary's (Calif.) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Moraga, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
BYU forward Nate Austin, right, dunks against Saint Mary’s (Calif.) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Moraga, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The BYU men’s basketball team battled back to upset No. 25 Gonzaga 69-68 at “The Kennel” in Spokane, Washington Thursday night.

Of Gonzaga’s last four home losses to West Coast Conference opponents, two have come at the hands of BYU. The Cougars upset the then No. 3 Zags in February last season. Gonzaga’s other two losses came in 2011 against St. Mary’s and in 2007 against Santa Clara.

Senior guard Chase Fischer said the team was able to pull out a win because of their heart and will.

“It’s really easy when you’re on someone else’s court, like Gonzaga, who’s a ranked team, an unbelievable team at home, it’s easy to just give up and blow the game out to 20,” Fischer said. “We just never gave up. We really kept fighting.”

Head coach Dave Rose echoed similar thoughts. After weeks of struggling on the road, he said the team showed continual effort.

“The effort on the defensive end was consistent the entire night, no matter how things were going for us offensively,” Rose said. “And that’s a sign of team that I think is really mature.”

Senior forward Nate Austin made two key blocks in the final 30 seconds of the game to seal the one-point victory for the Cougars.

“(Nate) shows so much heart and he’s a really a big, big piece of what we do,” Fischer said. “His play was one I’ll remember for my college career.”

The Cougars struggled in the first half to find offensive rhythm. They were unable to connect on open shots – shooting just 34 percent – and committed nine of their 11 turnovers in the first half.

Gonzaga led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but BYU trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead down to just two and a score of 56-54 following a crucial shot beyond the arc by Fischer. It was the Cougars’ first 3-pointer of the night and kept them in the game. BYU finished the night 3-for-17 on 3-pointers.

Junior forward Kyle Davis carried the Cougars during the first half, and senior Kyle Collinsworth carried them the second half. Collinsworth led the Cougars with 20 points and Kyle Davis recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Fischer added 18 points.

The Cougars held the Bulldogs to just 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. Gonzaga senior forward Kyle Wiltjer played exceptionally well, scoring a game high 35 points and recording nine rebounds.

BYU put Gonzaga in the double bonus with 13 fouls in the first half. Collinsworth and freshman guard Nick Emery found themselves in early foul trouble, so freshman guard Jordan Chatman saw good playing time. Chatman scored just two points, but turned in a strong defensive effort for the Cougars.

“The most important thing is that it’s another road win for us and the team is coming over a hump,” Rose said.

The Cougars improved to 13-5 overall and 4-1 in conference. BYU continues its road trip with a game at Portland Saturday, Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on ROOT RM/NW, CSN California and ESPN3. It can also be found on the Cougar IMG Sports Network, KSL 1160 AM / 102.7 FM and BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143.

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