BYU basketball: Cougars send seniors out as winners, MWC champions
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
PROVO While there's still plenty of unfinished business for the BYU basketball team this season, seniors Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess finished their respective careers at the Marriott Center in grand style.
First, there was an emotional pregame ceremony Wednesday to honor them, then a convincing 78-61 victory over Wyoming. Along the way, the Cougars extended their nation-leading homecourt winning streak (which now stands at 47 games) and clinched another outright Mountain West Conference regular-season championship.
The only bad news for Murdock and Burgess on Senior Night? It marked their final game at home.
Receiving the traditional senior blanket before the contest was nice, but perhaps the best parting gift was the presentation of the MWC championship trophy afterwards. Burgess, who scored 13 points, and Murdock, who added three, also got to help cut down the nets to celebrate BYU's back-to-back titles.
The two guards have earned the respect of Wyoming guard Brandon Ewing.
"A lot of people don't look at them because they don't lead the team in a lot of categories, but they do all the little things to help their team win," Ewing said of Murdock and Burgess. "That's what you need from your two upperclassmen guards. They do a good job leading their team. I take my hat off to those two guys."
With 2:14 remaining and BYU leading 74-55, Murdock and Burgess exited the game together to a loud roar of appreciation by the crowd of 14,724. They jogged over to the bench, where coach Dave Rose hugged each of them.
With the win, BYU improved its record to 24-6, tying the school record for regular-season victories in 1950-51, 1987-88 and 1979-80. The school record for overall wins in a season is owned by the 1950-51 squad that amassed 28 victories.
Asked to put perspective on the two straight league championships, Rose replied, "My personality doesn't allow me to look back much," he said. "Hopefully, it will help us in the future, in our recruiting, in our work ethic and how we respond to other situations."
The last time the Cougars claimed league crowns consecutively was in 1978-79 and 1979-80.
"They're really good," said Cowboy coach Heath Schroyer, a former BYU assistant. "You don't become a top-25 team without good players, a good coach and a great homecourt. I'm happy for Dave and congratulate him on winning the conference championship. They're the best team in this league."
While it was Senior Night, a sophomore stole the show in the first half.
Jonathan Tavernari scored 18 points all in the first 20 minutes of play. His 3-pointer midway through the first half gave him the BYU single-season record for most 3's made in a season, surpassing the mark set by Andy Toolson. He now has hit 76 this season after connecting on four from long distance Wednesday.
The Cougars jumped out to an 11-point advantage with 13:30 left in the first half, including two 3-pointers by Tavernari. Trent Plaisted added 11 points and five rebounds over the first 20 minutes of play and finished with a double-double a game-high 23 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
BYU quickly built upon its lead early in the second half by scoring nine straight points to go up 47-29. During a three-minute sequence, Murdock hit a 3-pointer and Burgess hit two more shots from behind the arc as the Cougars seized a 62-37 lead.
Lee Cummard, who scored 12 points, had seven rebounds and five assists and two blocks, couldn't help but crack a smile at the free throw line in the second half as BYU's student section chanted in unison: "M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!"
The Cougars visit TCU in their regular-season finale Saturday before heading to Las Vegas next week for the MWC Tournament."We've got a lot more to do," Rose told the crowd following the game. "Let's keep playing."
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