Matt Carlino's been kind of lost this season but he found himself Saturday night just in time to carry BYU on his back across the finish line in a 61-58 comeback win over Utah.
Carlino's been a shooter without barrel sights. A rifleman with a foggy scope. He's been wandering around this season shooting 13 percent from the 3-point line. That's side-of-barn-hope kind of play.
But in BYU's win, Carlino made 5 of 10 from beyond the distance stripe and it couldn't have come at a more important time. It saved the Cougars.
This is a game the Utes had plenty of chances to win. Utah caught BYU by surprise with a box-and-one defense on leading scorer Tyler Haws. They came with wrenches and rope and got physical on BYU's home court. They dominated in the paint for the first 20 minutes. Jordan Loveridge (14 points) led the way as Utah built up leads of 10, then 12 points just before half and had a crack at a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
But Carlino's back-to-back bombs with just under six minutes to play and the Cougars behind 49-46 was just enough wax to slide BYU to victory.
"He hit some very big shots for us and we're a lot better team when he's pushing the ball and making everyone better," said Haws.
"They were just playing off us. They were giving us that the whole game so we stepped up and took it," said Carlino.
His big buckets in the final five minutes allowed Haws to work magic at the free-throw line where he canned all 10 of his attempts.
Carlino had been a lost shooter through eight games. It had cost him his starting job five games into this season.
Carlino's team sputtered and struggled to meet Utah's accuracy inside and out. The Utes' got after Haws and had him a little rattled. Brandon Davies also struggled and when one of his second-half shots failed to draw iron, he protested and earned a technical.
The Ute plan was simple. Take Haws away, make trouble for Davies and dare BYU shooters to draw blood from the outside. It worked to perfection until Carlino found his mark.
"Coach tells us to take those shots when we have them," said Carlino. "You have to take those and make them."
Brock Zylstra couldn't find the net, going 0 for 6. Josh Sharp was 1 for 6. Haws struggled, going 2 for 10. Davies took 10 shots and missed 6 and Craig Cusick made just two of his five attempts from beyond the arc. Utah had only to wait out BYU shooters and they'd chalk up an impressive win on BYU's home court.
Then Carlino struck. Early in the second half, he got a pair of steals, one of them he finished on the other end. Offensively, he took the margin the Utes were giving him and calmly found his rhythm. He set his feet, he found his shooting motion, he made a pair of treys in the first half and found his confidence.
This is a guy who'd made just three from distance all season in 22 tries. Stevie Wonder could beat that percentage.
In the crucial second, Carlino had only to make shots and keep the Cougars within striking distance because the Utes fouled themselves into getting BYU the bonus with just over 11 minutes to play in the game. That's like giving Haws a credit card.
And that's exactly what happened.
Carlino buried his first of two at 5:40 to cut Utah's lead to tie the game at 49. After Glen Dean hit a three, Carlino did the same on BYU's next possession to tie the game at 52. It caught on because Cusick then knocked down BYU's third 3-pointer in three trips down the court and the Cougars led 55-53.
Ute's game plan, which worked, may have set a needed fire under Carlino, then it led to Cusick late. Carlino made 7 of 13 shots from the field and logged 30 minutes. BYU is a team that's struggled from distance this season but of their final five field goals against Utah, four were made from beyond the arc.
Is this a breakout kind of deal for Carlino? For BYU shooters?
Who can say?
But one thing is certain, BYU is in dire need of a third scorer behind Haws and Davies. Somebody consistent, somebody from distance. Anybody.
To the downfall of the Utes and hope of those in Cougartown, it was Carlino this night.
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