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Newly hired head coach Mark Pope looks on during his team’s season-opening win on Nov. 5. (Hannah Miner)

BYU men’s basketball walked away with a 76-58 victory over the Cal State Fullerton Titans during Mark Pope’s debut as head coach on Nov. 5.

With a record of 3-3 between the Titans and the Cougars, the scales tipped in BYU’s favor as they came away with a win. Last time BYU faced Cal State Fullerton was Nov. 22, 1996, where the Cougars lost 75-67. 

Top-scorers TJ Haws and newcomer Alex Barcello led the team to victory with 17 points apiece, while sophomore Connor Harding followed closely behind with 11 points in his 25:13 minutes of playing time. Harding and Zac Seljaas added eight rebounds each with UVU graduate transfer Jake Toolson adding five of his own.

“I look at it as a blessing,” Barcello said of his career-high 17 points. “I mean, it’s great to come out here and play with such great guys and such a great team. I’m very, very thankful.”

Arizona transfer Alex Barcello gains a career-high with 17 points in the first BYU home-opener game. (Hannah Miner)

The game not only resulted in notable results for Barcello, but for Seljaas as well. The 6-foot-7 senior recently underwent surgery due to a foot injury he sustained during the team’s trip to Italy this past summer. While he was unable to practice for the majority of the off-season, Seljaas played 17:25 minutes and added six points, seven defensive rebounds and two assists. 

Seljaas is one of three Cougars recently afflicted by injury. While the team’s injuries have resulted in a smaller team able to play, BYU demonstrated skill on the three-point line shooting 53.3% during the first half and 45.8% overall on 11 of 24 shooting from deep range.

“A lot of times we’re playing a small lineup,” Haws said. “We really have to shoot the ball and you know, we work on it every single day, finishing our shots and shooting with confidence.” 

The two-a-day practice schedule implemented by Pope seems to be paying off. 

The game, played at the Marriott Center, began with an onslaught of heavy defense on both teams. Kolby Lee brought the score to 4-1 after a personal foul.

During the first five minutes of the game, the momentum remained with the Titans until Barcello made a huge defensive swat, followed by a three-pointer on the other end courtesy of Harding. BYU continued with the momentum as Harding and Barcello hit back-to-back three-pointers that resulted in a 15-10 BYU lead just eight minutes into the game. 

BYU held the lead for the remainder of the first half with eight three-point buckets. Barcello and Harding recording three apiece with Seljaas and Trevin Knell also finding the scoresheet from deep.  

The Cougars went into the second half with a lead of 38-24. 

Haws elevated his play in the second frame, scoring five points within the first three minutes of the half, bringing the score to 47-30.

Although he scored just two points in the first quarter, TJ Haws came back in the second frame as a top-shooter for the BYU Cougars. (Hannah Miner)

Although BYU remained at 51 points from 15:21 to 11:30, Barcello again provided energy for the team with a jump shot made from just outside the paint. 

Toolson followed through with points of his own as did senior Dalton Nixon and sophomore Blaze Nield. 

“We have a really senior-heavy team, a bunch of guys that are hungry and that want to try and accomplish something and a lot of people think they can’t do it. They look at the roster. And say, well you don’t have this, you don’t have that,” Pope said. “But by the time we get to the end of this year, we’re going to be really good and nobody is going to want to play us.” 

The next game for the Cougars will be against San Diego State on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in the Marriott Center. It can be seen on BYUtv and it will be broadcasted on BYU Radio and KSL 102.7.  

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