Despite a monster effort from Eric Mika, the BYU Cougars fell 81-68 to the No. 19 Saint Mary's Gaels Thursday night in Moraga, California.
Mika ended the night with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the floor to go along with 10 rebounds, but the Cougars (11-5, 2-1) had no answer for the Gaels' well-executed offense.
Jock Landale led Saint Mary's with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the field with nine rebounds and six assists, while Emmett Naar managed 17 points on the strength of a 3-of-4 shooting night from beyond the arc while adding four rebounds and four assists.
Calvin Hermanson added 15 points, while Joe Rahon chipped in with 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Gaels (13-1, 3-0).
Elijah Bryant was the only other Cougar to reach double figures with 11 points in 19 minutes off the bench in his first game in nearly two months.
Why the Cougars lost
The Cougars had no answer defensively for a nearly flawless Saint Mary's offense. The Gaels moved the ball crisply, created great cutting lanes and took advantage of BYU double teams to find open looks for their good shooters.
While Mika was a beast, he got little help from anyone else on the offensive end of the floor. While he shot 12 of 17 from the floor, the rest of the team connected on just 15 of 44 shots.
The turning point
With the game tied at 20 midway through the first half, the Gaels went on a 13-0 run to open up the double-digit lead.
Although the Cougars would fight to close the gap, they never got any closer than five points the rest of the way.
What it means
While it was only their first loss in conference play, it was a huge setback for the Cougars. Saint Mary's is one of two teams left on the Cougars' schedule that moves the needle, and a road win would have been huge come tournament time.
While Rahon only finished with 10 points, he was a difference-maker for the Gaels. He was great at delivering the ball with eight assists and no turnovers.
Grading the performances
BYU just couldn't solve the excellent ball movement by Saint Mary's, and that led to far too many open looks. The Gaels capitalized and connected on 31 of 55 shots from the floor, including 10 3-pointers.
On offense, the ball movement was nearly nonexistent as the Cougars tied a season low with just nine assists.
On the plus side, BYU hardly turned the ball over. Another positive sign was that Mika and Yoeli Childs played 57 minutes combined with just three fouls.
The effectiveness on Landale on the blocks just crushed the Cougars. Not only did he convert on 11 of 13 shots, but he also showed excellent passing skills out of the double team that led to easy baskets for the Gaels.
While they had no answer for Mika, the Gaels kept the Cougar guards in check to come away with the important win.
Three telling stats
On a night where the Cougars assisted on just nine of 27 baskets (their second worst assist percentage of the season), they had their best assist-to-turnover ratio of the season (3-1), thanks to just three miscues. The last time the Cougars had less than six turnovers in a game came on Jan. 11, 2011, when they had five miscues in a 104-79 win over Utah.
The 55.4 percent the Gaels shot from the field was the best shooting against the Cougars all season. Utah Valley University held that distinction before Thursday knocking down 52.9 percent of its shots.
Saint Mary's thoroughly handled the Cougars on the backboards, winning the rebounding battle 37-27. The 27 rebounds were the lowest by the Cougars on the season and nearly 18 boards below their season average in the first 15 games.
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The Cougars are back at home Saturday to face off with the Pacific Tigers. The Tigers are 7-9 on the season and 1-2 in conference play after a hard-fought 56-53 win over San Diego.
Ray Bowles and T.J. Wallace are some players to watch for Pacific.
Bowles is leading the way with 14.1 points to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while Wallace chips in with 13.4 on 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc with 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists.