Cardiac Cougars: BYU escapes collapse in 83-80 win over No. 21 Creighton

Watching BYU men’s basketball is not for the faint of heart.

Just 11 games into the season, Mark Pope’s motley crew has rarely provided comfortable viewing. One might call it ‘hyperventilation material.’

Even when the Cougars led by double digits late in Saturday’s Las Vegas showdown with Creighton — where BYU had drastically improved its shooting and abused the No. 21-ranked Blue Jays in the paint — nothing ever felt completely safe.

Such anxiety was merited.

Leading by 11 points with just under four minutes to play, BYU fell apart to the tune of six turnovers and complete on-court incompetence to allow a 12-0 Creighton run, putting the Blue Jays ahead by a point for the evening’s 12th lead change with 33 seconds remaining.

Luckily for Pope and company, Dallin Hall was born with the clutch gene.

Hall dashed down the lane from half court, bricked his initial lay-up attempt before putting his miss back in the basket to put BYU ahead for good and clinch an exhilarating 83-80 win.

“We did some bad things and we had some huge plays down the stretch,” Pope said. “We just made plays when we needed them. It was a little frantic and we were on our heels a little bit, but the guys stepped up and did what they had to do.”

Hall is no stranger to late heroics, already banking in the game-winner against Missouri State on Nov. 17 before burying the Blue Jays in Vegas. In his second career start, the freshman point guard scored seven points and dished five assists over 21 minutes of action.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Hall said. “We’ve played some really tough teams this year, and we haven’t put together a full 40 minutes this year. Tonight we almost did.”

Hall’s point guard counterpart Rudi Williams brought some flames off the bench for the Cougars, scoring a BYU-best 26 points in a jaw-dropping response to his transition from starter to sixth man.

“This has not been an easy road for Rudi, and I’ve seen him in some really vulnerable positions,” Pope said. “He’s found a way to respond exactly right, character-wise. He’s a special human being.”

Following a pitiful shooting effort in Wednesday’s blowout loss to UVU, the Cougars’ shot selection improved for a 44.8% field clip while completely embarrassing Creighton down low for a 50-29 rebounding advantage, 16 offensive boards and 42 paint points.

BYU wasn’t cleaning the glass against just anyone — Creighton entered Saturday ranking No. 1 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, yet somehow allowed the Cougars to gobble up 16 offensive grabs.

How on earth did the Cougars pull this off after losing to UVU?

“We are a work in progress and it makes it really fun,” Pope said. “I think I just wanted it for our guys so badly because it hasn’t been an easy road for us and these guys have tried so hard to stay focused. We’re getting better. I just want them to feel the joy of that, which we were really fortunate to do.”

Aside from Williams’ explosive night, BYU’s youth movement was on full display against Creighton. Fouss Traore posted his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds, Richie Saunders added 10 points, six boards and terrific defense, Atiki Ally Atiki swatted three blocks and Jaxson Robinson hit a team-high three shots from behind the arc.

If anything, Saturday showed that BYU can give its younger pieces plenty of minutes to contribute and develop while still being competitive against quality opponents.

“We got to a point where all of us were willing to look each other in the eye and acknowledge the fact that we aren’t very good right now,” Pope said of the team’s pre-Creighton struggles. “I don’t know if there are many coaches that are blessed with a locker room and individuals that can have that conversation. With these guys, we’re having the conversation. We’re just hungry to get better. We believe we can grow into a much better team, and the guys are trying to do that.”

BYU moves to 6-5 on the season, with a pair of home tests against Western Oregon and arch-rival Utah looming at the Marriott Center in the coming week.

“These guys are special,” Pope said. “They’re working really hard to try to grow into a really special team. We have a long way to go, but it sure is fun to coach this group.”

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