Alex Barcello takes a shot against San Diego State in the Marriott Center. (Dallin Wilks)

BYU men’s basketball hangs on to beat San Diego State 66-60

The BYU men’s basketball team overcame abysmal shooting and a stifling San Diego State defense to pick up a 66-60 win at the Marriott Center on Friday and start the season 2-0.

The starting backcourt of Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas combined for 30 of BYU’s 66 points and were the only Cougars to score in double figures, with 17 for Barcello and 13 for Lucas.

“Tonight we had the ability to focus on what mattered,” head coach Mark Pope said. “These guys face so many distractions. When you face inward something magical can happen.”

The two things that mattered most against SDSU, according to Pope, were winning the rebounding battle and protecting the ball. The Cougars narrowly out-rebounded the Aztecs 42-38 and had 11 turnovers in a defensive battle.

“I love this game with San Diego State,” Pope said. “The history. Jimmer standing up on the table. It’s just fun.”

Barcello got started early against the Aztecs, drilling his first triple in the opening minutes. Caleb Lohner found an opening to the rim to tie the game at seven and then a mid-range jumper by Knight gave the Cougars the lead, 9-7, triggering an SDSU timeout.

The Aztecs’ length and athleticism made it hard for the Cougars to get going on offense in the early going, with just 13 points scored through 10 minutes. Barcello was once again the one to break the ice with an and-one just past the midway point of the first half, putting BYU up 16-11.

Freshman Fouss Traore matched up well with the Aztecs’ size down low and was able to score a quick five points on his own to give the Cougars a 21-15 lead with 7:57 left in the first half.

Fouss Traore celebrates an and-one against San Diego State on Friday in the Marriott Center. (Dallin Wilks)

SDSU tied the game at 24 with some help from the free-throw line but was kept from taking the lead on the following possession thanks to a chase-down block from George.

The Aztecs briefly took the lead, 28-26, in the final two minutes of the first half, but Barcello and Lucas hit back-to-back triples to give the Cougars the lead once again, 32-28, with 42 seconds until halftime. Barcello’s was particularly impressive, pulling up from a good few feet behind the 3-point line.

Barcello led the Cougars with nine points and three assists at the break as BYU took a 32-30 lead into the locker room.

Starting center Gavin Baxter continues to be on a minutes restriction as he returns from injury but made good use of his limited time with six quick points in the opening minutes of the second half. BYU showed off its size with Baxter and Traore picking up offensive rebounds and protecting the paint on the other end. Traore had a highlight block right at the rim to prevent an Aztec dunk early in the second half.

Barcello picked up where he left off in the first half with a 3-pointer to give him 11 points on the night and put BYU up 40-37 with 15:13 left. Lohner picked up his first points of the second half and first since the opening minutes of the game on a dunk assisted by Lucas.

Caleb Lohner (33) and Gavin Baxter (51) box out San Diego State defenders to get a rebound on Friday. (Dallin Wilks)

Seneca Knight had the best game of his young BYU career against the Aztecs, converting a tough layup on one end and a block on the other in quick succession to get the ROC rocking in the second half.

“The ROC showed out all the way to the top,” Lucas said. “It’s always a plus having a crowd with us, pushing us.”

SDSU kept it within a single possession early in the second half and tied the game at 44 with 11 minutes to go. The game was once again tied at 49, but the Cougars gained an advantage after SDSU’s Lamont Butler fouled out of the game with 7:37 left.

The Aztecs regained some momentum and the lead by nailing a corner triple and drawing an offensive foul on Knight, but a technical free throw allowed Barcello to tie it back up at 54.

The Cougars continued to struggle from the 3-point line well into the second half, with Lohner missing his fourth consecutive triple with 3:59 to go. BYU shot 4-of-18 from three on the night, but Pope said he “doesn’t worry about it at all.”

The Marriott Center erupted when Barcello made a 3-point shot falling out of bounds and seemingly getting fouled at the same time. The Cougars got the defensive stop on the other end, hanging onto a 57-54 lead with 2:43 left in the game.

Lohner got a key offensive rebound and putback to keep BYU ahead, 59-56, with 1:29 to go.

“He just goes up and gets it,” Barcello said of Lohner’s rebounding. “We have trouble blocking him and Gideon (George) out in practice.”

Barcello entered closer mode in the final minute, getting to his spot and nailing a mid-range jumper to put BYU up by five, 61-56. SDSU was forced to foul BYU with 30 seconds to go and Lucas made four free throws in a row to keep BYU in control. The victory was sealed with a pair of SDSU misses and rebounds from Lohner and Knight.

BYU hits the road for the first time this season next week to take on No. 13 Oregon on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.

Mark Pope celebrates BYU’s win over San Diego State in the Marriott Center on Friday. (Dallin Wilks)
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