Despite being down two rotation players Trevin Knell and Fousseyni Traore, BYU put together its most complete game of the season against the Iowa State Cyclones.

Before tip-off against Iowa State on Tuesday night, Knell and Traore were ruled out, a significant test of BYU’s depth. Knell suffered a foot injury and Traore tweaked his hamstring against UCF on Saturday and were both inactive against the Cyclones.

After gutting out a gritty win in Orlando, BYU came home to the Marriott Center seeking its first Big 12 win at home against Iowa State.

Coming into the game, the Cyclones ranked second in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. But the Cougars combined bounce-back efforts from Spencer Johnson, Jaxson Robinson, Dallin Hall and Noah Waterman lead BYU to a comfortable 87-72 victory. Even with a win against UCF, the offense for BYU had been in a slog during conference play. Tuesday was the Cougars ‘get right’ game opportunity for them to get the offense back on track.

For Johnson, the month of December and most of the season has been a struggle. Last season, Johnson shot 50.8 percent from the field and 46 percent from behind the arc. This season his percentages have fallen to 41.8 percent from the field and 31 percent from the 3-point line. To put his struggles into perspective, Johnson had only shot 50 percent from the field in five out of 16 games and had only made three 3-point shots before facing Iowa State. this season prior to facing the Cyclones.

With the absence of Knell, the Cougars needed a breakout game from Johnson and he delivered his best game in a BYU uniform. Johnson scored a career-high 28 points, grabbed nine boards and dropped five dimes all while shooting 10-16 from the field and hitting four threes.

“I feel like the way our team is built… you know we’re missing really key guy there, a really really good shooter,” said Johnson. “The answer is not to be like ‘hey I’m going to get more shots,’ the answer is to let the ball find who’s open… and that happened to be me tonight.”

In what was a surprisingly up-and-down and high-scoring first half, Johnson carried his team scoring 19 points, half of the Cougars’ 39 first-half points.

“Spence, sheesh, that boy is a killer,” Waterman said.

It cannot be overstated how impressive this offensive performance was from Johnson, but also the entire team. BYU scored 87 points against Iowa State, which is the most amount of points the Cyclones had given up all season. In Big 12 play BYU scored 60, 72 and 63 points in its first three games with the offense looking almost unrecognizable from non-conference play. For BYU fans the second half was a welcome sight, as the Cougars scored 48 points and looked exactly like the team they had been before conference play.

Several BYU players broke out of their shooting slumps tonight. Before Iowa State, Waterman was shooting 1-13 from 3 in conference play and posted back-to-back zero-point games. Against the Cyclones he got out of his slump and scored 18 points, sinking seven of his eight free throws. Waterman was especially important at the beginning of the game scoring a quick six points after hitting his first two 3s to ignite the offense.

“The ball just found me early,” Waterman said. “Coach always tells us to shoot open shots, so I’m not going to turn them down and I hit a couple.”

With Knell out with a foot injury, Robinson joined the starting lineup scoring 15 points in his new role. Robinson is another player who had been in a mini-slump before the game against Iowa State. After suffering an injury against Georgia State, Robinson had yet to score higher than 10 points in a game. Getting Robinson back into rhythm is crucial for BYU if they want to make a push at the Big 12 championship.

Another player that took a big step forward was point guard Dallin Hall. He scored 11 points on 4-4 shooting and dished out eight assists with only three turnovers. He was the quarterback of the offense that head coach Mark Pope needs him to be during Big 12 play.

“Dallin Hall’s numbers might not leap out at you off the page, but that dude took a massive step forward as a point guard today,” Pope said. “I thought there were a lot of possessions where he knew exactly what he was doing.”

The biggest to BYU’s offensive success was their pace and ability to attack pressure.

“Our guys poise and their confidence and their refusal to second guess their decisions in real-time,” Pope said. “It was like, we’re going to go make a decision, we’re going to believe in it, if it doesn’t go right we’re going to move on to the next one. I thought that was extraordinary tonight out of these guys against their pressure.”

The key to beating the Iowa State pressure was BYU’s offensive release, the Egyptian Magician: Aly Khalifa. While Khalifa only scored two points against a formidable Cyclones front line, he was still the connective tissue to the nation’s 12th-best scoring offense. He handled the pressure and made the right play all night long. When other Big 12 teams turn on the Iowa State film, they will see how difficult it is to stop the Cougars offense with Khalifa as the ultimate pressure relief valve.

After a convincing win against Iowa State where BYU only played seven players in their rotation, it does open up Pandora’s box of questions. Though most would be considered overreactions, it’s worth wondering about … Are there changes to the rotation that need to be made when Knell and Traore return? What lineups work best when Knell is not on the floor? How can BYU get this version of Johnson more often? Coach Pope and his staff have another data point to think about as they continue to find the right rotations so they can be playing their best ball in March.

Now back to the present, BYU is at .500 in Big 12 play at 2-2, they will look to continue their win streak Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, against a physically and mentally tough Texas Tech team.

The Big 12 is a gauntlet and the games won’t get any easier for BYU the rest of the way. The Cougars’ win against Iowa State is just one of 18 conference games. But, they proved to the Big 12 and more importantly to themselves that their offense can score against the best defenses in the country. An important confidence boost for the Cougars with a matchup against Houston one week away.

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