Alex Barcello shoots against San Diego.(Decker Westenburg)

BYU men’s hoops surges late, battles for 79-71 win over San Diego

Shaking off a slow start, BYU men’s basketball corrected its shooting woes en route to a bruising 79-71 win over San Diego Thursday night in Provo.

The win— head coach Mark Pope’s 60th at BYU— puts the Cougars in sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference at 4-1 against conference opponents.

Exhausted from the consecutive Gonzaga/San Francisco road swing last week, BYU was handcuffed early as San Diego seemingly had the Cougars figured out, moving the ball however it pleased and denying any sort of BYU rhythm in the first half. If not for Seneca Knight’s 12 points in the opening frame, the deadlocked halftime score could have been much uglier.

Gideon George takes a contested layup against San Diego. (Decker Westenburg)

While shots refused to fall in the first half, BYU rallied after halftime to shoot 69.2% from the field down the stretch. Other than the ejected Atiki Ally Atiki, the other eight Cougars in Pope’s rotation found the scoreboard in crunch time off of timely 3-pointers, fast-break strikes and Fouss Traore putting on a clinic in the paint.

“There was a lot of emotion that came out in the second half with refs and players,” guard Alex Barcello said. “I felt like we did a good job of fighting that frustration.”

It was a harsh, chippy affair, with brutal physicality triggering tempers and leading to multiple technical fouls on both sides, including an ejection for Atiki. “That gave us a whole lot of energy after, knowing that he was there to fight.”

Despite being battered around throughout the evening with no sympathy from the officials, Barcello still managed to scrap together 22 points to lead all scorers. Traore continued his ascension to stardom by posting his third double-double of the season with 14 points, 11 boards along with a pair of blocks and steals.

“He’s the greatest,” Barcello said of Traore. “He deserves everything that’s coming to him. He’s so willing to work. He’s so much fun to play with.”

Knight finished with 14 points, and Gideon George added another 10 points and seven rebounds after being held silent in the first half. Against a typically strong rebounding Torero squad, the Cougars crashed the glass to win the rebounding battle by a 38-28 margin with 11 offensive boards.

Even when coughing up more than 10 turnovers for the 15th time this season and being unable to consistently hit outside shots, Pope’s motley crew found a way to pick up win number 16, the best 20-game start for BYU in the Pope era.

“There’s no nights off in this league right now,” Pope said. “When you’re really good, every game is massive.”

The Cougars are set to face Portland this Saturday in Provo at 7 p.m.

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