NEW YORK CITY — The BYU Cougars came prepared to play on Tuesday night against the Baylor Bears in their first NIT semifinal appearance since 1966. But though the game remained tight throughout the night, eventually Baylor defeated the Cougars 76-70.
The Cougars came into the contest as underdogs — perhaps still retaining a picturesque memory of their loss to Baylor earlier in the season. But despite their inability to match the athleticism and size of Baylor, the Cougars matched them bucket for bucket in the first half. In addition to their relentless scoring effort, they also managed to win the battle of the boards, pulling down 24 rebounds compared to only 12 from Baylor in the first half of play.
The leader for the Cougars, senior forward Brandon Davies, came out firing on all cylinders, shooting 3-4 from the field and scoring six points early in the first half. His level of effort was equally matched by sophomore forward Nate Austin, who scored nine points in the first half on 3-4 shooting.
Though the Cougars scored inside the painted region without difficulty, the exceptional long-range shooting they enjoyed in recent NIT games was practically non-existent. BYU shot 0-5 from 3-point land in the first half, in addition to their struggles with the mid-range jumper. The Cougars finished the game 5-20 from 3-point range.
Baylor rallied behind excellent guard play and the post play of Cory Jefferson, who scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting in the first 12 minutes of the first half. The well-known scorer for Baylor, Brady Heslip, surprised everyone in the building when he posted a 0 from the field early on — shooting a bleak 0-4, including 0-3 from 3-point range in the first half.
BYU and Baylor continued to keep the score close until the final stages of the game, with either side giving the other any sort of advantage. However, as the second half drew to a close, the common curse of foul trouble plagued the Cougars once again, as Brandon Davies picked up his third foul and was forced to head to the bench with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Tyler Haws stepped up his level of play in Davies’ absence by putting the team on his shoulders and carrying the scoring load for the remainder of the game — connecting on a mix of jump shots, layups and dunks. Despite the strong effort of Haws, it wasn’t enough to send the Bears home.
The second half of the game belonged to Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson of Baylor, as they each took turns scoring at will to finish out the contest. Cory Jefferson finished the night with 21 points, and Pierre Jackson put in 24 points to elevate the Bears to victory over the Cougars.
With less than three minutes to play, the Cougars rediscovered the 3-point shooting they lacked in the first half — hitting four deep 3s at the end to give them a chance to win. But in a series of unfortunate events, including one that involved nearly eight seconds ticking off the clock while Baylor prepared to put the ball inbounds, the Cougars lost their composure and fell short.
Though the game ended in a loss, the core unit of the Cougars performed admirably. Tyler Haws finished the game with 25 points, Matt Carlino finished with 19 points and senior forward Brandon Davies finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Kyle Hunt provides instant analysis for the Deseret News' BYU sports coverage. He holds the position of Web Content Manager at Fusion 360 advertising agency in Salt Lake City, Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org