BYU's bench is solemn and lifeless during a 77-58 loss to Washington State. (Decker Westenburg)

BYU men’s hoops runs out of steam in 77-58 NIT quarterfinal loss to Washington State

Fate officially caught up to BYU men’s basketball after a 77-58 loss to Washington State Wednesday night, reaching the bitter end of an awkward season in Provo.

After 35 games, the Cougars simply didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to compete with Washington State’s size and physicality. The Crimson Cougars toyed with BYU in a way that the Marriott Center hadn’t seen since Gonzaga came to town, extinguishing hopes of a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four.

“Every season except for the magical season ends disappointingly,” head coach Mark Pope said. “It’s actually the worst.”

It was a chippy affair from the start, with BYU taking an early lead before losing their advantage for good with six minutes to play in the first half. After halftime, BYU was seemingly allergic to stops on defense, allowing Wazzu to score at will and set up shop on the glass.

“It was not our night guarding the perimeter in the second half,” Pope said. “We had a really difficult time rebounding the ball. It’s surprising, because that’s just not us. We didn’t look like ourselves tonight.”

BYU clawed back within three points with 13 minutes to play in the contest, only for an Atiki Ally Atiki flagrant foul to give Washington State free throws, possession and an eventual 11-point lead to seemingly bury the Cougars.

Shooting woes plagued the Cougars all night, hitting just 3-of-20 shots from behind the arc and 41% of shots from the field. After totaling 50 assists in their past NIT wins over Long Beach State and Northern Iowa, BYU managed a mere 12 assists drowned out by 13 turnovers.

“We just didn’t earn great shots for our teammates tonight,” Pope said. “We weren’t forceful or committed enough tonight to fight through and earn those shots. We’re a really good shooting team when we earn those shots for each other.”

Fouss Traore capped off a terrific freshman campaign with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Alex Barcello put his collegiate career to rest with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Caleb Lohner continued his solid tournament showing with eight points, 11 boards and a team-high five assists.

When Lohner is at the top of BYU’s assist leaderboard, that’s typically cause for concern. If only it was BYU’s sole red flag of the evening.

Injuries, inconsistency and failure to finish left BYU absent from the NCAA Tournament and booted following the NIT quarterfinals, setting up a critically urgent offseason for Pope and company.

With seniors Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas out the door — not to mention any possible departures in the always-unpredictable transfer portal — the time is now for Pope to develop his young talent, shop from the portal to fill missing pieces and begin the early sculpting of a Big 12 roster.

“It’s free agency now. I like where we’re at. I’m excited about this spring,” Pope said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m super optimistic about our future.”

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