PROVO — Boasting one of the nation's top forwards, Perry Jones III, and a cast of other talented players, No. 6 Baylor put its perfect record on the line as it visited a sold-out, raucous Marriott Center. BYU, energized by guard Matt Carlino's first appearance in a Cougar uniform, was poised to spring a huge upset.
It had all the makings of a classic game Saturday afternoon — and the two teams delivered.
In the end, the Bears downed BYU 86-83 in a thriller before a crowd of 22,700.
The Cougars (8-3) had a couple of chances to send the game into overtime, as Carlino, who scored 18 points in his debut, missed a 3-pointer with six seconds left.
"I should have made it," Carlino said afterwards. "I thought it was in."
Then after a missed free throw by Baylor, Charles Abouo dribbled the ball up court and handed it to Brandon Davies, whose 3-point attempt was blocked at the buzzer by Pierre Jackson.
"I had no doubt in my mind that it was going in if I had gotten the shot off," said Davies, who recorded a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. "But they made a great defensive play. You have to give them credit for that. I had no idea where (Jackson) came from. I didn't see him at all."
"The play that we had called, we were going to race it up and try to get it to our guard popping out for a 3-point shot," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "I thought we had a better opportunity in transition to get that shot off than if we call a timeout. We kind of got out of kilter and got the ball to Brandon, who's not our best 3-point shooter, and they made a nice play."
Just prior to those final two BYU possessions, Jones, who scored a game-high 28 points, went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, stopping play for several minutes as he lay on his back, being attended to by trainers.
But after play resumed, Jones checked back into the game and his putback with 20 seconds remaining gave the Bears (9-0) a 3-point advantage.
"We think we have a rebound and Perry Jones jumps up and grabs it and sticks it back in," said Rose. "(Baylor) made plays. They deserved to win."
The Cougars were, of course, disappointed with the outcome, knowing that, with a win, they had an opportunity to crack the Top 25 rankings for the first time this season, and secure a signature win that would have looked awfully good, especially in March.
"Baylor made some terrific plays, especially down the stretch," said Rose. "We had quite a few chances there. We just came up a play or two short. Our guys are really disappointed in the locker room, and they should be because they believed we could come in here and win the game."
"I expected us to play against a really good team and we did," Carlino said. "I expected us to compete really well, and we did. But we expected to win, too."
The first of Carlino's four 3-pointers lifted BYU to a 13-point advantage, 41-28, with a little more than two minutes left in the first half. But the Cougars squandered that lead as Baylor went on a 10-1 run to end the first half. Despite the fact BYU held a 26-11 rebounding advantage, it led by just four, 42-38, at intermission.
"You have to credit BYU's team for playing outstanding in the first half," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "They got multiple good shot attempts and I think that was because of their heart and toughness. It's a good group of guys. The crowd got them going. The crowd was outstanding."
"They changed their personnel and went with two point guards and pressured us," Rose said about the final minutes of the first half. "Instead of it speeding us up, we got a little bit timid and turned the ball over a time or two.
"But I thought going into halftime with a four-point lead, we just needed to play an aggressive second half. For the most part, we did."
For the Bears, the key was their outstanding 3-point shooting. Guard Brady Heslip drilled four 3-pointers in the first half and finished with six on his way to 18 points on the day. Baylor knocked down 13-of-25 shots from beyond the arc.
The Cougars knew they had to defend Baylor's athletic big men — Perry, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy — and Heslip made BYU pay from outside.
"I think their 3-point shooting was a real difference in the game," Rose said. "We tried to help on those post players. When we didn't help on the post players, they seemed to have their way with us."
Midway through the second half, Carlino hit a jumper that propelled the Cougars to a 64-56 lead. Then BYU suffered a five-minute scoring drought as part of a stretch that saw Baylor go on a 20-3 run and seize a 76-67 lead.
The Cougars battled back to within one, but couldn't get back on top.
"We had a spot there in the middle of the second half where they seemed to really be the aggressor and kind of got us on our heels," Rose said. "We recovered from it. There were a lot of really good things that happened in the game, but when you don't win, it's hard to see that."
Abouo finished with 17 points and Noah Hartsock added 15. Freshman Damarcus Harrison came off the bench to score eight points, all in the first half.
"We saw a lot of really good things in this game. This is a team that had us on our heels and we were able to recover from that and get the game back on our side," Rose said.
"I thought our crowd was terrific. The atmosphere, the emotion and the energy in the building was really exciting. Obviously you want to win the game, but for our team and our situation, where we are right now, I thought that was a really good effort. We're not pleased by any means with the result, but we can build on that and get better."
The Cougars return to action Tuesday when they host Buffalo.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company