PROVO Winter semester doesn't start for a couple of weeks, but BYU professor, er, coach, Steve Cleveland introduced a new equation Saturday at the Marriott Center: W + W + K = W.
As in, Whiting plus Wesley plus Knight equals win.
Mekeli Wesley and Trent Whiting scored 22 points each while Nate Knight provided a strong presence inside as BYU rallied to defeat Utah State in a thriller, 69-67.
Both Whiting and Knight made their respective Cougar debuts on Saturday and not a moment too soon. BYU wouldn't have won without them.
Though it was the first time in a year that either had played, you wouldn't have guessed it. The pair of seniors made an immediate impact on the Cougars, to say the least, and infused a new attitude. Especially Whiting. With Terrell Lyday rendered ineffective offensively after he suffered a serious ankle sprain in the first half, Whiting stepped up.
"There were so many heroes in this game and it starts with Trent Whiting," Cleveland said. "He's been our best player in practice for four months. He is a competitor and he adds a nice dimension to this ball club, something we haven't had . . . It was the leadership Trent brings and the energy. It is contagious."
"He's been waiting and waiting for this moment, and he was going to make the best of it," Wesley said. "This guy's for real. He does this every day in practice. There's an aura he brings to our team."
"It's a little surprising that a guy could come in without playing and play like that," USU coach Stew Morrill said of Whiting. "If he keeps playing like that, he'll be all-league."
Whiting, who played 39 minutes, has only one problem. "Now I've got a lot to live up to," said the 6-foot-1 guard.
True enough. It's hard to imagine him topping what he did against the Aggies. The Utah transfer started in place of Matt Montague at point guard Travis Hansen also started for the first time, in place of Nathan Cooper and connected on 7-of-11 shots. Whiting also hit four 3-pointers, including a 28-footer at the buzzer at end of the first half to give the Cougars a 41-40 halftime lead. But his biggest basket came when he stole the ball from Aggie guard Bernard Rock and streaked the other way for a layup to tie the score at 63-all with 2:47 left. "That turned the whole game around," Cleveland said. "That was a big play."
Wesley sealed the game with 7.9 seconds remaining when he dropped in a pair of free throws.
Wesley and Whiting carried the Cougars for much of the game. They combined to score the Cougars' first 19 points including five 3-pointers and, fittingly, their final eight points.
BYU also benefitted from the addition of the 6-10 Knight. In 18 minutes, he scored five points and grabbed five rebounds. More than anything, he played a brand of interior defense that BYU hasn't enjoyed during Cleveland's tenure.
Aggie center Dimitri Jorssen hurt the Cougars with 15 points, but Knight kept him from inflicting even more damage. "Nate did a really nice job in the low post," Cleveland said.
Utah State took a 61-55 lead with 6:30 remaining in the game on a basket by Jorssen and it appeared the Aggies were about to take control. Lyday, who played 13 minutes in the second half on a bum right ankle that required a pain-killing injection, made only one shot, but it was huge a 3-pointer that cut USU's lead to two. Then Whiting swiped the ball from Rock and scored a layup that knotted the score at 63.
Both Wesley and Whiting converted on all six of their free throws in the final two minutes. Even after Wesley's last two free throws, the Aggies still had an opportunity to win or send the game into overtime. But Aggie guard Curtis Bobb lost the handle on the ball, which went out of bounds.
Cougar forward Eric Nielsen, thinking the game was over, ran from the bench to celebrate with his teammates. Trouble was, there was still three-tenths of a second left.
Morrill was livid and wanted a technical foul. A similar situation happened to the Aggies earlier this season and they drew a technical. But this time, no call came.
"He thought the buzzer had gone off," Cleveland said of Nielsen. "He won't do that again."
Morrill, meanwhile, is thinking about what might have been. "We made bonehead plays and we didn't get a call on the road down the stretch. That's the game story," he said. "I will feel until the day that I die that we should have won this game. It's our fault as much as anybody else's fault. I'm not blaming the officials. We made some silly plays."
Whiting, meanwhile, made big plays. "Coach told me to come out relaxed and play my game," he said. "Everyone competed a lot harder tonight."
BYU's flight today to Hawaii the Cougars begin play in the Pearl Harbor Invitational Thursday against Boise State on the campus of BYU-Hawaii won't seem quite so long.Utah State plays at UC Riverside on Wednesday.
NOTES: BYU and Utah State are now 6-2 on the season . . . USU has now lost 12 consecutive games in Provo, dating back to 1985 . . . The Aggies also had their 10-game road winning streak snapped while BYU improved its home winning streak to nine.