Trevin Knell shoots a 3-pointer against Utah State (Dallin Wilks).

Explosive first half powers BYU men’s hoops past Utah State 82-71

Good things happen when you hit your shots early, as BYU men’s basketball found out during Wednesday night’s 82-71 rivalry victory over Utah State.

“(Shooting) kinda carried the day for us,” head coach Mark Pope said. “It was really important.”

Making his second start of the season, Trevin Knell sprinted out of the gate with 13 points after just as many minutes in the first half to lead BYU’s 45-point offensive charge prior to halftime. The Cougars — playing with a much smaller starting rotation — did an excellent job establishing their spacing early, creating open looks to fire away from deep for 11 made 3-pointers on the night.

“We’re a good shooting team. We’re better at earning good shots for each other right now,” Pope said.

Even with Te’Jon Lucas coughing up five turnovers and a colder shooting night for Alex Barcello, the Cougars shot 50% from the field and tied their season-high with a 45.8% clip from beyond the arc. In addition to Lucas and Barcello, Knell, Spencer Johnson, Hunter Erickson and Seneca Knight drained threes for the Cougars.

“I think it’s a lot harder for teams to guard us. We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” Barcello said. “I know the ball is gonna fall for us.”

Despite the turnovers, Lucas posted 14 points and six assists as BYU’s ringleader on offense, with Barcello leading the Cougars with 17 points and a pair of steals. Johnson continued his consistency as BYU’s “three-and-D” sixth man with eight points and Fouss Traore rumbled off the bench for 14 points and a hefty dose of physicality.

After an illness kept him sidelined for the past two games, Gideon George returned to the court and provided some much-needed athleticism for the Cougars with seven rebounds and a disruptive defensive effort.

“He has such an impact on the defensive side of the ball,” Barcello said of George, who played a key role in limiting Aggie star Justin Bean from becoming a bigger scoring factor.

The Cougars were pinned into a scoring drought of more than five minutes in the back end of the second half but tighetned up defensively to force a three-minute scoreless period for Utah State and prevent the Aggies from clawing too far back into the contest.

“We know there’s gonna be runs in the game, but we know our runs are gonna be better,” Pope said.

Free throws proved fatal for the Aggies, who shot just 45% from the penalty stripe and missed 11 shots with some help from BYU’s rowdy ROC student section.

“I’m waiting for someone to step to the free-throw line and just pass out right there,” Pope said. “The ROC helps us win basketball games.”

Conversely, the Cougars were able to secure the victory with late free-throw execution highlighted by Barcello and Traore’s perfect 15-of-15 combined effort from the line.

“I swear he doesn’t know how good he is,” Barcello said of Traore. “It’s so fun to play with him.”

With the win, the No. 24 ranked Cougars handed the Aggies their 10th-straight loss in the rivalry series while moving to 8-1 on the season. Pope’s squad now hits the road again to face Creighton in South Dakota’s Sanford Pentagon this Saturday in another demanding early matchup.

“We’re not exactly sure who we’re becoming, so it’ll be hard for them to know who they’re playing,” Pope said.

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