Alex Barcello shoots against San Francisco. (BYU Men's Basketball)

BYU men’s basketball rallies to beat San Francisco 71-69 in nail-biter

BYU found a way to get a big win against San Francisco on the road, beating the Dons 71-69 Saturday, after trailing for most of the game. The Cougars are now 15-4 overall and 3-1 in conference play.

The Cougars had their hands full against the USF Dons, who prior to this game were 11-0 at home, with an overall record of 15-2. The Cougars handed the Dons, now 15-3, their first conference loss, and are in an excellent position to continue their route to an NCAA Tournament bid.

Alex Barcello finished the game with 18 points, shooting 6-of-14 from the field. He was recently dubbed “the best shooter in the country,” by ESPN’s Jay Bilas.

Although San Francisco’s Khalil Shabazz and Jamaree Bouyea’s defensive presence was hard to overcome, BYU was able to limit the key playmakers on the offensive end to secure a win. The goal of BYU coming into this game was to have no live turnovers, but unfortunately, that was not the case in the first half.

BYU ran into turnover trouble, as it has in most games this season, and USF capitalized on that trouble by turning it into points early in the game. BYU went into the half trailing the Dons 28-27. USF made just 21% of its field goal attempts but held the lead due to a gaping free-throw disparity. The Dons were 13-of-15 from the line, while BYU didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half.

The goal of the Dons was to shut down the Cougars’ 3-point shooting, but BYU ended up beating USF at its own game. The Dons were 15-0 coming into Saturday when they made more threes than their opponent. BYU went 7-of-19 for 36.8% from the 3-point-line and was able to hold San Francisco to just 13.0% on 3-of-23 shooting from distance.

The second half started off almost too easy for the Dons as BYU missed key opportunities to put points on the board. A never-quit attitude is what sealed the game for the Cougars.

Down as many as 10 points, BYU came back with 1:37 left to take the lead for the first time since the third minute of the first half.

In the last seconds of the game, Caleb Lohner came in with a clutch offensive rebound, which allowed BYU to hold onto the lead.

“Without Caleb’s rebound who knows what the outcome of this game would be,” Te’Jon Lucas said.

BYU head coach Mark Pope has never lost back-to-back games in the regular season since coming to Provo. He is now 16-0 in games following a regular-season loss.

Lucas credited Pope and his leadership for their win tonight, and also spoke on their loss against Gonzaga in Spokane earlier this week. “The leadership starts with Coach Pope, and after the loss, you just have to stress the importance of moving on and getting ready for the next game.”

After shooting zero free throws in the first half, BYU began to match USF’s physicality in the second half. It was then that the calls began to come for BYU.

“Once we matched their physicality, and played with force, we were finally able to get the calls we needed,” Lucas said.

With tonight’s game, BYU now has a winning record of 18-4 all-time against San Francisco. The Cougars are 9-2 in the War Memorial Gymnasium.

BYU finished a grueling eight-day stretch by going 2-1 against the elites of the WCC: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and USF.

The Cougars return to the Marriott Center on Thursday, Jan. 20 to face San Diego. The Toreros are 10-7, and 3-1 in WCC play. The game will be on CBS Sports Network, with a 7 p.m. MST tipoff.

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