Gavin Baxter dunks against Utah. (BYU Photo)

Cougars out-hustle Utes in men’s hoops rivalry game for 75-64 win

Saturday, Nov. 27, a night where most rivals were facing off on the gridiron, BYU men’s hoops took to the hardwood against their arch-rival, the Runnin’ Utes of Utah. 

“These rivalry games are great, they’re always tough,” head coach Mark Pope said. “You can throw the rankings and the stats out the window, so we’re just grateful that these guys fought hard and got the win.”

Both the Cougars and the Utes shot terribly in the first half, with neither team shooting above 40% from the field. The defense was stifling and shots that normally would fall for BYU were bouncing off the rim like it had a lid on it. Of the shots that did fall for the Cougars, the majority came from close range, with 20 of their 27 first-half points coming from inside the paint and only one 3-pointer falling, courtesy of Te’Jon Lucas.

It was evident that both teams had read the scouting report, as BYU’s leading scorer Alex Barcello had only four points in the first half, and Utah’s leading scorer David Jenkins Jr. had zero at the half. Both picked it up a bit in the second, but it was clear that both were accounted for and given special attention by opposing defenses throughout the contest.

When asked if the emphasis Utah put on shutting down Barcello affected the Cougars’ offensive effectiveness, Pope said, “It actually helps us with our spacing sometimes. Te’Jon gives us such a luxury on manipulating where Alex is, he can actually be really effective without the ball in his hands.”

The Cougars’ effort on the boards was what carried them through the bleak shooting effort in the first half.

“Our guys have been successful against everybody on the glass,” Pope said. “And it’s saving us because there have been a few things we haven’t been doing great.”

BYU beat out the Utes on the glass 45 rebounds to 28.

The Cougars shook off the rough start by scoring 48 second-half points to beat the Utes 75-64. Lucas showed out as a bright spot, with great finishes around the rim and BYU’s only two threes of the game. He led the Cougars in scoring for the second-straight game with 18 points.

“I’m not surprised by his play honestly,” Caleb Lohner said of Lucas. “Te’Jon is a playmaker and he shot the ball really well tonight.”

“In the second half we had more pace, were quicker in our decisions, and overall we had a better offensive feel,” Pope said. “We just kept with it and picked it up a little bit.”

Gavin Baxter posted two blocks had 14 points, with several dunks. Baxter and Utah center Branden Carlson were dueling it out all game in the paint, with Carlson posting a Ute-best 17 points and three blocks of his own.

At times it wasn’t pretty, but a scrappy BYU team pulled out the win.

“This team has the chance to be great,” Pope said. “I’m really pleased with our defensive effort. The ceiling is really high with this group.”

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