BYU men’s basketball escapes Idaho State 60-56 in season opener

A late three-pointer from Spencer Johnson snatched a season-opening victory for BYU men’s hoops, where the Cougars rallied to avoid disaster Monday night in an uncomfortable 60-56 win over Idaho State.

The Cougars raced to a 9-0 start to the contest and finished on a 12-3 run in the game’s final three minutes, with the space in between plagued by an offensive funk resulting in BYU shooting just 37% from the field with an abysmal 3-16 line from three-point range.

“We struggled offensively the whole night, and most of that’s on me,” head coach Mark Pope said.

How does a team win a game in which it only makes three shots from behind the arc? For BYU — who went 102 minutes between made threes — its self-proclaimed “disruptive” defense kept the Cougars within reach, forcing 21 Tiger turnovers to produce 23 points while out-rebounding Idaho State 42-29 on the back of Fouss Traore’s 10th career double-double.

The Cougars, however, coughed up 23 turnovers of their own and trailed by as many as eight in the second half, forcing Pope’s new-look squad into survival mode earlier than anyone could have expected.

“At the end of the day I know we’re always going to win, we’ve just got to find a way,” Traore said.

Traore helped pave such a way in netting two clutch free throws to tie the score at 55 with just under 30 seconds to play, where the Tigers then took a one-point lead from the charity stripe to cue a possible dagger possession for the Cougars. BYU ran a high design for Johnson, who did his best Alex Barcello impression in draining the go-ahead three to put the Cougars ahead and ignite a hysterical Marriott Center.

Deep shots were hard to come by for BYU, but at least one hit when it mattered most.

“That was one of the best things ever,” Traore said of Johnson’s game-winner.

Traore led the BYU charge with 15 points and 11 rebounds, with Johnson and Gideon George adding 11 and 10 points, respectively. The Cougars managed just nine total assists, seven of which came from Traore and newcomer Dallin Hall.

“We’re high ceiling, low floor,” Pope said. “Tonight we were dwelling more toward the floor.”

Sure, a rebuilding, developmental season was definitely anticipated for BYU in 2022-23, but struggling for the majority of a home game against Idaho State — definitely not a Duke or Villanova — raises plenty of red flags going forward, especially considering the Cougars will head for an early road test against No. 19 San Diego State this weekend.

“We’re better than we showed tonight,” Pope said. “We’ve got a lot of growing to do.”

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