LOS ANGELES — This isn't the Mountain West Conference anymore. No big arenas filled with huge crowds.
But as BYU discovered again Thursday night, road wins still don't come easy in the West Coast Conference.
The Cougars held on to defeat Loyola Marymount, 73-65, before 3,073 fans at Gersten Pavilion, marking BYU's first-ever road victory in the WCC.
"The first one's a hard one to get, that first win in the league," said coach Dave Rose. "I feel a lot better today than I did last Thursday."
Last Thursday, Saint Mary's drilled the Cougars in their WCC opener in Moraga, Calif., 98-82.
After BYU (13-4, 2-1) and LMU (8-7, 1-1) battled to a 34-34 tie at halftime, the Cougars leaned heavily on reliable senior forward Noah Hartsock, who scored 21 points, including 17 in the second half.
The reigning WCC player of the month hit six of his eight shots in the final 20 minutes, including eight straight BYU points during one stretch, that gave the Cougars their biggest lead, 66-53, with 2:13 left in the game.
"I feel real comfortable with making those shots and helping our team out," Hartsock said.
Hartsock didn't necessarily demand the ball in the second half. But his teammates know he's the go-to guy.
"Noah's kind of quiet guy, and he does it in the huddle. But he's not a demonstrative guy on the floor," Rose said. "His teammates kind of respect that. That's why he's one of the most popular guys on the floor. He plays within himself, and he knows when he wants it and hopes the guys get it to him. … In crucial times, our guys want him to shoot the ball. That's a good sign."
"We like to play inside-out. Noah's shooting a high percentage, and he scores almost every time he gets the ball," said guard Craig Cusick. "He did a good job in the second half. The team did a better job of playing our game. We didn't do as well in the first half."
Still, BYU watched its 13-point lead with two minutes left evaporate quickly as the Lions applied pressure in the backcourt.
LMU outscored the Cougars 12-1 in a little over a minute to climb to within two points, 67-65, with 55 seconds remaining.
BYU had a few turnovers during that span, including a five-second call on Hartsock while he tried to inbound the ball.
"They just started to put the pressure on us," Cusick said. "There were a few plays where we made a few mistakes. But the good thing was, guys stepped up at the end and hit some big free throws. I'm proud of the way our guys responded to that pressure that they put on us."
Lions guard Anthony Ireland, who finished with 21 points, scored seven during that run, including a 3-pointer.
"They made some good plays," Hartsock said. "I made a bad pass and had a five-second call. We just got rushed. LMU did a good job pressuring us. They made us turn the ball over. They hit some shots and got some momentum. It got closer at the end, but fortunately we were able to make some plays and finish out the game."
Rose said the final two minutes of the game taught his team some important lessons.
"It seemed to me like we were careless. They made a couple of big plays as far as hitting tough shots," he explained. "Getting stuck with a five-second call out of bounds is kind of inexcusable. We'll have to review that. It's really a good experience for us. It's much better to go through it and be able to overcome it and win it so we can teach it and grow from it."
Both teams struggled shooting from the outside, as BYU was 5-of-20 from 3-point range and LMU was 5-of-26. Matt Carlino was 1-for-7 from behind the arc.
Brandon Davies recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cougars return to WCC action Saturday when they host San Francisco.
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