OKLAHOMA CITY — BYU finally ended its 17-year drought at the NCAAs, but its victory over first-round opponent Florida was like pushing a camel through a key hole.
With 10 seconds left and Florida coach Billy Donovan screaming at his team, "No more fouls, no more fouls," BYU guard Jimmer Fredette gratefully looked at the clock ticking down. His face cracked into a grin as wide as the prairie.
BYU dispatched Florida of the SEC, 99-92 in double overtime, and as head coach Dave Rose put it, "We needed all 99 points."
The Cougars then celebrated harder than any BYU team had a right to do since 1993 in Chicago after beating SMU.
"You should have seen it in the locker room," said senior Chris Miles. "We went nuts in here, crazy."
"It was like Steve Young, finally getting that Super Bowl win," said athletic director Tom Holmoe.
And they should have let loose. They'd come out scared, taken control, lost control and regained control to finally put a shoe on the Gators in a thrilling, dramatic, made-for-TV game.
At several stages of the game, BYU players felt a familiar pain in the gut.
They were blowing it, choking.
The Cougars blew a 13-point lead, witnessed Florida go on a 25-9 run to regain the lead, and survived two failed game-winning shot attempts by Gator Chandler Parsons.
BYU scratched, clawed and found a hero in Michael Loyd Jr. before riding star Fredette when, as if on cue by a TV producer, he buried a pair of dagger bombs in the final 2:38 of the second overtime.
"Our guys could have packed it in, but they didn't, none of them," said assistant coach John Wardenburg.
It was only fitting that BYU's only 30-win team end the Cougars' NCAA famine.
While Fredette ripped off 37 points without getting an old-fashioned three-point play on his patented drives, the story of this game was a familiar late-season role by Loyd, who electrified the Ford Arena with 10 points in two minutes shortly before halftime to lift a sputtering BYU team to a 35-33 lead at intermission.
Loyd, sporting a mohawk and a little chin fuzz, looked like a character out of a video game.
The Cougars had fallen behind 28-21 before Loyd turned into Iron Man and rocketed past Florida defenders on two drives and a pair of lightning treys.
Settled into the favored role, Rose watched his squad take a 59-46 lead at the 9:16 mark on a 3-pointer by Jackson Emery. But Florida then scored at will on the Cougars with Kenny Boynton dropping 3-bombs to tie the game at 68. It then became a slugfest through regulation and two overtimes.
But like the gamer he is, Fredette delivered the hammer on Florida with a pair of treys in the second overtime. The second was an elevated jumper from 26 feet out over 6-foot-10 center Vernon Macklin, and it put BYU comfortably ahead 93-86 with less than two minutes till jump-on-backs time.
"As a guy who has to come out and cover shooters like that, I know what it's like, and you wouldn't want anybody but Jimmer to make that shot," said Miles.
But even Fredette's highlight shots had to come after he had the ball stolen from him by Erving Walker in the first overtime with 18 seconds left and the game tied at 81.
"You know," said Fredette, "It was our time."
Fredette's outside shot wasn't working most of the game, and he looked fatigued, tired, and was huffing and puffing in the second overtime. But when Florida's man assigned to lasso Fredette, Boynton, fouled out early in the second overtime, the Cougar star got the polish out.
"You are playing for your life," said Fredette. "At that point, you're doing it on adrenaline."
In the locker room afterward, the Cougars jumped around like bowling pins, and coach Rose was in the thick of it.
The Cougars will have a huge challenge in facing Kansas State on Saturday, but Rose allowed a well-earned celebration here before he took to the next task.
"I'm proud of our guys," said Rose. "This was a long time coming."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company