NEW YORK — A familiar opponent can be a blessing and a curse. Given the opportunity to play a Baylor squad it had faced twice in the past two years, the BYU basketball team had to like its chances of beating the Bears and advancing to the NIT championship game.
Tuesday's semifinal showdown was a slugfest of back-and-forth action and multiple lead changes. In the second half, Baylor pulled out to a double-digit lead late and held off a furious Cougar comeback to win 76-70.
GUARDS: The starting guard line didn’t play as well as it did in the other NIT games, but its play was still almost enough to extend the Cougars' season for one more game. BYU’s best player was undoubtedly Tyler Haws, who led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting (60 percent). Matt Carlino chipped in another 19 points as well as six rebounds and five assists while only turning the ball over once. While Carlino’s stat line was pretty good, he was not efficient in his shooting performance. He shot the ball 19 times, including 14 from the 3-point line. He did almost single-handedly extend BYU’s chances late with some clutch 3-pointers. Brock Zylstra ended his BYU career with two points and six rebounds. GRADE: B
FORWARDS: Brandon Davies and Nate Austin started out with hot shooting in the first few minutes of the game, but soon cooled off their percentages over the rest of the first half. Davies struggled against the physical Bears' defense and had his lowest overall stats since the loss to Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament. Still, Davies finished his Cougar career with 13 points, five rebounds, and one assist, one steal and one block. Austin was effective on both ends, as he finished with nine points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Austin stayed out of foul trouble for most of the game, but the same wasn’t necessarily true for Davies, although he managed to stay on the floor late despite having four fouls. GRADE: B+
BENCH: Coach Dave Rose kept a short bench again against Baylor — partially out of necessity and partially out of trust in his starters — but the bench again proved to be inconsistent when given the time to spell the starting lineup. There really isn’t any other way of putting this: Two total points in more than 25 minutes on the floor is well below the expectations of BYU fans. The lack of bench production was an issue all season and Rose will undoubtedly look to re-enforce the bench play for next season. GRADE: D
OVERALL: The Cougar faithful that were in attendance were there to support their team in what they hoped wouldn’t be the final game of the basketball season. The players might have struggled, but it can’t be said that they didn’t leave everything on the Madison Square Garden court as they tried to extend their season for one more game. In the end, BYU couldn't overcome a cold-shooting slump that lasted for several minutes in the second half as Baylor extended its lead to 10 points.
Even after all of that, Carlino almost willed the Cougars back into the game with his late 3-pointers. The players played for each other but unfortunately, they came up just short. With the documented struggles over the season, Rose and his staff still ended up with a 24-win season. GRADE: B
Landon Walters is a history and political science major at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org