I'm proud of our guys for how we battled. I thought we had a lot of opportunities that we could have converted here or there. We could have got over the hump and maybe challenged them there at the end. Marquette was just too good today. —Coach Dave Rose
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When last season ended, many observers wondered who would lead BYU after the departures of seniors Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery.
The Cougars found their man — forward Noah Hartsock.
Not only did Hartsock lead the team in scoring and blocked shots, his toughness, resiliency and consistency helped BYU win 26 games. Even more impressive, Hartsock played the final few weeks of the season with knee and ankle injuries.
The senior from Bartlesville, Okla., ended his Cougar career Thursday with an 88-68 loss to Marquette in the NCAA tournament.
And, as usual, he went down fighting.
Hartsock played just 23 minutes due to first-half foul trouble, but he finished with 15 points, scoring 13 in the second half.
"I'm going to bet that his ankle is pretty sore, and the reason that I say that is because he played 23 minutes without a rebound," said coach Dave Rose. "And Noah is a competitor, and his line is offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, points, blocks. And tonight that was difficult for him. I think he worked on that ankle all day, yesterday on the bus ride down from Dayton, last night. He's a warrior. He fought through it and gave our team all he had."
Hartsock was BYU's Mr. Reliable all season long, scoring in double figures in every game but three.
"It's hard to describe in words how amazing Noah has been for us this year," said guard Craig Cusick. "Throughout the whole season. Anytime we needed a bucket, a stop, a rebound, he was that senior leader that everybody wants on your team. He came up plenty of times throughout the season."
Rose praised Hartsock and his other senior, Charles Abouo.
"Our two seniors are special guys," he said. "They've been involved in more wins than any players in the history of the school. We will miss them. I will miss them personally."
Abouo played in 113 wins in his career, the most of any player in BYU history. He eclipsed Fredette's record of 112 victories. Hartsock finished third with 107 wins.
Hartsock also recorded 177 career blocked shots. That ties him with Shawn Bradley for second-most blocks in school history. The all-time leader is Greg Kite, who had 208.
FATIGUE FACTOR: It was no secret that BYU had to be exhausted after its 25-point comeback on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, the team bused to Louisville. On Thursday afternoon, they played Marquette.
But the Cougars made no excuses.
Asked if fatigue was a factor against the Golden Eagles, Hartsock replied, "I don't think so. We do a great job conditioning. Every day in practice, we get up and down the floor. There might have been a little bit, but I think we were able to get through the game."
Cusick said the team has had this type of schedule.
"In our conference play, we got used to playing Thursday-Saturday games with only one day of rest," he said. "I feel like we had the energy and the effort tonight, just made a few too many mistakes."
FREE THROW WOES: BYU missed nine free throws in Tuesday's win over Iona and missed seven more against Marquette.
Why did the Cougars struggle so much at the charity stripe?
"It's hard to say," said forward Brandon Davies, who was 5-of-11 from the line. "There's nothing you can do but get in the gym and try to fix it."
NOTES: Announced attendance on Thursday was 16,069 at the KFC Yum! Center. … BYU is now 15-30 all-time in the NCAA tournament in 27 appearances. … The Cougars have won four of their last seven NCAA tournament games.