BYU suffers its worst loss at the worst time

Nothing in the Big 12 is guaranteed and BYU got a wakeup call on Saturday. The Cougars lost 93-83 to the worst team in the conference, the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

BYU started the first half flatter than an already opened two-week-old bottle of Dr. Pepper. Turnovers, quick shots and poor defense killed the Cougars early and frequently. BYU turned the ball over four times resulting in easy layups and an early 8-0 advantage in points off of turnovers for Oklahoma State. After a made Aly Khalifa jumper with 14:56 to play, the Cowboys exploded on a 13-2 run.

The Cougars found themselves down 27-15 halfway through the first half and started to press. For those who have followed BYU closely this season, it was reminiscent of games against Cincinnati and Oklahoma where BYU abandoned its principles on offense. The ball movement was nonexistent and it became individuals attempting home run shots instead of a team-orchestrated comeback attempt. BYU made just 2 of 16 3-point attempts in the first half and ended the game 6 of 35 from 3. Oklahoma State was much more disciplined in its attack, targeting the weak points on BYU’s defense.

The Cowboys continually broke down the BYU defense and created wide-open 3s for Javon Small, John Michael-Wright and Jamyron Keller. The three guards combined to make 7/10 3s in the first half to sustain their double-digit lead. The Cowboys connected on 8/14 attempts from long-range overall in the first half.

Down 35-20, BYU needed to string stops together and make Oklahoma State pay on the other end. BYU cut the lead down to seven at 41-34 after BYU forced several turnovers and bad shots from Oklahoma State.

But it should have been closer. The Cougars missed multiple layups including a wild attempt from Dallin Hall that went over the backboard. The Cowboys took advantage and finished the half on a gut-wrenching 8-0 run to match their largest lead at 15 up 49-34 at halftime.

The second half was not much different than the first half. Every time BYU started to go on a run, Oklahoma State would answer right back.

Oklahoma State extended its lead to 20 at 66-46. BYU cut the lead down to nine, but that lasted just for one possession. The Cougars for the first time all season were thoroughly outplayed from start to finish against the worst team they have played since Wyoming.

Red Flags

Going into Saturday, Cowboys guard Jamyron Keller averaged 5.1 points per game and had scored in double figures just once in his last 15 games. On Saturday, he was perfect. Keller shot 8 of 8 from the field scoring a career-high 22 points.

Cowboys big man Brandon Garrison averaged 7.1 points a contest but against Cougars he scored 21 points on 7 of 8 from the field. The Cowboys shot a blistering 59 percent from the field including 50 percent from 3. In conference play, the Cowboys are last in scoring averaging 64.5 points in Big 12 play. Against BYU, they scored 93 points and made it look easy. The Cougars defense was nonexistent against the worst team in the Big 12.

Was this loss an anomaly for BYU?

Possibly … but there are some recurring red flags from the loss. BYU drops to 2-5 on the road this season. Not uncommon for teams in the Big 12 but BYU still has road trips to the state of Kansas and a matchup against Iowa State in Ames. Will a different BYU team show up at Hilton and The Phog?

On paper during the regular season, BYU’s defensive rating is 97.8, and the 16th-best defense in the country according to cbbanalytics. But the more layers you peel back, the worse it gets for BYU. Kenpom.com currently has BYU as the 55th-ranked defense in adjusted defensive efficiency, a steep decline after being in the top 15 for most of the non-conference competition. BYU ranks 11th in the Big 12 in points given up during conference play at 74.8 points allowed per game. Now you could argue that part of the reason BYU gives up so many points is the fast pace BYU plays at. However, BYU ranks 10th in the Big 12 at 109.5 in defensive rating and 12th in defensive Kenpom’s defensive efficiency at 109.7 during conference play. For BYU to win in the Big 12, its offense has to be special. If the offense is not going, BYU is in trouble.

Individual Worries

Against Oklahoma State, of all teams, Aly Khalifa was played off the floor. He only played 17 minutes and had multiple turnovers and blown defensive assignments before head coach Mark Pope pulled the plug in favor of Fousseyni Traore. Traore was the lone bright spot for BYU on offense. He scored 17 points in 21 minutes.

Back to Khalifa … he has been the target for opposing competition to attack all season long. In some games, he holds up and is brilliant on the offensive end. In other games like against Houston and Oklahoma State, he sits for most of the second half because these teams have exposed his limitations. Khalifa has struggled this season finishing at the basket and holding up on defense against certain teams. How Pope balances the combination of Traore and Khalifa is the storyline to watch as we near the end of the season.

This season has not been what many BYU fans hoped it would be for Spencer Johnson. Last season, Johnson averaged 11 points per game shooting 46 percent from 3 and 50 percent from the field. This season Johnson is still averaging 11 points per game but on 31 percent from 3 and 40 percent shooting from the field. Against Oklahoma State, he played just 21 minutes, his second-lowest during conference play. Can Johnson get back to his 2022-23 season form for BYU? It might be exactly what BYU needs.

It has been an up-and-down season for Dallin Hall. Against Oklahoma State, he turned the ball over five times and struggled to finish at the basket. On the other side of the floor, Hall was attacked mercilessly by Oklahoma State’s guards in the second half. As Hall goes, this BYU team goes. If Hall can finish the season strong, BYU has a chance to finish in the top half of the Big 12 and get a No. 5 or a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Glass half full

Although BYU looked dead in the water on Saturday in Stillwater, they can still right the ship from one bad performance. This game was a culmination of the Cougars’ weaknesses coming to the surface all at once. But it was not the nail in the coffin for the Cougars season by any means. BYU is still projected to be in the tournament, it is .500 in Big 12 play and it has won four out of its last six games in the Big 12. The amount of 3s they shoot and the style they play is volatile but it allows them to compete against the best teams in the country. Up next the Cougars face the Baylor Bears, who are currently ranked 12th in the country. A win against Baylor could erase the stench of the loss against Oklahoma State and get everything back on track. If BYU can address its issues, the sky is the limit for what this BYU team can do in the postseason, which is only three weeks away.

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