Traore powers BYU men’s hoops past Liberty 80-75 in Christmas clash

BYU men’s basketball wrapped up their Hawaiian getaway with a gritty 80-75 win over Liberty in the Diamond Head Classic finale on Christmas day.

While BYU slipped hard from behind the arc with just three made three-pointers, the Cougars picked up the slack with aggressive rebounding, clutch late playmaking from Te’Jon Lucas and some Christmas-gifted foul calls from the referees that gave BYU 35 attempts from the charity stripe.

Oh, and the Cougars had Fouss Traore, who turned out to be a one-man recipe for success.

“I was hungry,” Traore said of his first career start at BYU.

“When Fouss gets hungry, you better watch out,” BYU head coach Mark Pope quickly added. Perhaps Saturday’s play of the night was Pope penciling Traore into the starting lineup before the game, but what ended up happening on the court from the Mali product was pretty good, too.

The freshman sensation dominated through Liberty’s defensive double teams for career bests with both 19 points and 13 rebounds, notching his first career double-double. Traore’s breakout performance was enough to land on the Classic’s all-tournament team, which he credited to Lucas getting him the ball.

“Te’Jon is crazy, he can find anybody,” Traore said. “He gets me easy baskets, and I really appreciate him. I’m gonna split (my trophy) in two, so there’s one for me and one for Te’Jon.”

Trevin Knell put up a career-high 15 points— 11 coming in a crucial second half showing— while Lucas posted 11 points, seven assists and swiped two steals. Alex Barcello was limited to just 23 minutes while fighting foul trouble once again, but still added nine points to the pile. Turnovers continued to plague the Cougars early, but Pope’s squad finished the final 10 minutes of the contest without coughing up a single giveaway.

BYU ended the tournament with a third place finish, with the previously scheduled championship round between Stanford and Vanderbilt being axed following positive COVID cases within Stanford’s roster. The Cougars set for one final non-conference tuneup with Westminster this Wednesday evening prior to the start of WCC play.

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