Dick Harmon: BYU basketball: Cougar players upset, but it was a good run

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 8:56 p.m. MDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The locker room resembled a tomb.

No. 14 seed BYU bowed out of the NCAA tournament Thursday at the hands of an opportunistic No. 3 Marquette 88-68, but Cougar players didn't want to dress or leave until somebody in authority told them to.

While Craig Cusick and Noah Hartsock were taken to the NCAA post-game interview area, the rest of their teammates — perhaps in respect of the moment — didn't move off their stools for a long time. Brandon Davies, towel over his head, worked through his emotion and reporters gave him his space. A tearful Charles Abouo had to gather himself before he could find his voice. This team didn't want to stop. Nor say good-bye.

The Cougars stepped on the court against Marquette and immediately fell behind 18-5 within six minutes. It proved a hole they could not navigate out of despite battling to within six at 52-46. Marquette ended the game on a 10-0 run to get as far ahead as 20.

BYU wasn't coming back like Tuesday against Iona.

They'd stepped in the ring against a tornado and had little shelter to weather back like they did against the Gaels.

Marquette answered every BYU run and took advantage of every Cougar miscue, of which were many. The Cougars took bad shots, forced shots, lost rebounds, turned the ball over and gave up big 3-pointers.

Senior star Noah Hartsock got his second and third fouls within a minute in the first half and sat 15 minutes of the game, including the start of the second half. He finished with 15 points but his absence was a killer.

The Cougars finished this post-Jimmer season 26-9 with a first-round win. "It's been a good run," said Hartsock. "Every season I've been here, we've played in the NCAA tournament. I'm going to miss these guys, they are like brothers."

BYU's exit here was expected by experts, that they battled and had several chances was admirable.

But Marquette showed why it has a No. 11 ranking in the polls.

The Cougars failed to control the boards (48-34) and gave Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder too many second chances (25 points, 16 rebounds). The Cougars had no answer for that kind of force on the court.

Davies scored 19 and had 12 rebounds, but could not get a string going for the Cougars, who were outshot 37 to 45 percent by the Golden Eagles.

Hartsock's back-to-back offensive fouls came with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half and BYU down 31-17. It was at a time the Cougars fought to gain some order on both ends of the court.

"I was trying to fight for position and I guess they felt I hooked and used my arms. It was my fault," said Hartsock.

"Any time Noah isn't out there, it's a huge loss for us because of what he does," said Abouo.

Rose said Hartsock's issues stemmed from his sore ankle he's been nursing for a month. "He played 23 minutes without a rebound and Noah is a competitor and his line is offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, points, blocks and tonight, that was difficult for him."

The Cougars now say good-bye to Hartsock, one of the school's most prolific shot-blockers and Abouo, a consummate team player with a golden attitude.

"These two seniors, Charles and Noah, are special guys. They've been involved in more wins than any players in the history of the school. So, we will miss them. I will miss them personally."

Rose said BYU's accomplishment in winning 26 wins and an NCAA tournament game will be appreciated more from the inside than from out as far as his staff is concerned.

It hurt that the Cougars lost not only Fredette and Jackson Emery — one of the best backcourt tandems in school history, but freshman Kyle Collinsworth to an LDS mission and then his brother Chris and Stephen Rogers to knee injuries.

"With the challenge of changing leagues and dealing with a whole different mindset and emotional approach to every game, traveling on the road in a conference to every venue that no one's ever played in, being able to go through a season without losing consecutive games. Those are really important."

Rose called this season "a special year" and one he'll hang on with his "proud" medal.

Sometime Thursday, long after Marquette ended BYU's season, the Cougars shuffled out of the locker room and headed for the team bus and trip home.

Not a player on the squad expected the exit on Thursday.

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