BYU’s historic win over No.2 Gonzaga, one year later

It was a night never to be forgotten.

BYU students will be telling their grandchildren years from now where they were when the No. 24 BYU men’s basketball team beat No. 2 Gonzaga on Feb. 22, 2020. Whether they were physically in the Marriott Center, at home on their couch, or even just listening to Greg Wrubell on the radio, Cougar Nation was united that night.

Students waited outside the arena for days, eagerly anticipating the matchup. When the stadium officials finally started letting people inside, it wasn’t long before the arena had reached capacity as 18,987 fans quickly packed together like sardines, waiting for the gladiator match to begin.

Finally, the lights went out. Kanye West’s “Power” blared on the speakers. Students and fans alike joined together, swaying to the beat. The moment they had been waiting for all semester was finally upon them.

What happened next surprised everyone.

The Cougars won. Not just by the skin of their teeth, but in dominant fashion. The final score was 91-78, a full 13-point differential. Senior forward Yoeli Childs obtained a crucial double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow seniors Jake Toolson and TJ Haws added 17 and 16 points respectively. Needless to say, “Senior Night” was dominated by the seniors.

“We battled tonight,” Toolson said after the game. “We really laid it all on the line. The message is pretty consistent this year. All the guys on the team want to fight for each other. This shows how we can play. We can win when we’re playing together and fighting for each other and we can win against the best teams in the country.”

BYU men’s basketball seniors TJ Haws, Yoeli Childs and Jake Toolson celebrate following the Cougars’ 91-78 win over No. 2 Gonzaga on Feb. 22, 2020. The game was on “Senior Night,” and the departing class carried the Cougars to victory. (Hannah Miner)

Right from the start, it was clear it was going to be a fun night. Childs quickly bookended a 13-4 BYU run to give the Cougars a 21-18 lead with just 9:15 left in the first half.

The Zags thundered back with a few key baskets, briefly regaining the lead at 25-24. But their victory was short-lived.

From there, it was all BYU. Childs answered the call, scoring three of the next five buckets, giving the Cougars the lead at the half, 38-32. The Zags, on the other hand, were held scoreless during the final 4:36 of the first half.

“They came after us with their offense,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They came after us with their defense, physically taking the ball from us.”

The second half was much like the first. Sophomore forward Kolby Lee and Toolson hit two early threes, keeping the momentum on the side of the Cougars. Within minutes, BYU was leading Gonzaga by as many as 14.

Then the Zags showcased why they were ranked second in the nation. After an impressive run and a key jumper from forward Drew Timme, the Bulldogs narrowed the lead to just 70-68 with 7:52 remaining in the game.

At this point, the Marriott Center was heating up. Fans were screaming, students were reeling, and the Cougar bench was leading the charge. One couldn’t even hear the referee’s whistle over the ruckus.

College basketball analyst Andy Katz would later say, “if you watched what BYU did to Gonzaga at home on Senior Night in Provo, wow! What an atmosphere at the Marriott Center. If they can get that on a regular basis next season, when they’re back at the Marriott Center, forget it.”

The fans were rewarded for their energy. With a pair of threes from senior Zac Seljaas and numerous layups by Childs, the Cougars went back up 87-76 with just 3:15 left in the contest.

Victory was close, the fans could smell it. They had already begun to walk towards the court, eagerly waiting for their cue to rush the court. 

Finally, the clock wound down. Three. Two. One. Pandemonium.

The BYU team threw their hands in the air, running together to celebrate collectively. The fans were not far behind, rushing the court with reckless abandon. Shouts of, “We love you, Yoeli!” and, “We are the champions!” could be heard from every direction.

What a night.

“This is really humbling because these guys have gone through so much and it doesn’t always work like this,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “It was one of those special moments in sports and it’s not going to be our last.”

Gonzaga returned to the Marriott Center on Feb. 8, 2021 as the No. 1 team in the nation, but nothing could top the emotion on Senior Night in 2020 when the fans stormed the court and Pope’s arrival at BYU was sealed with an upset victory for the ages.

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