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Dick Harmon: Matt Carlino's production critical for Cougars in NIT

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 8:47 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Thursday Feb. 2, 2012 file photo, BYU's Matt Carlino brings the ball down court during a game against Gonzaga in second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Provo, Utah. Reminders of Jimmermania are everywhere, from billboards near Brigham Young’s campus to racehorses named after last year's national college player of the year. His successor,  Carlino, even had to endure chants of FILE - In this Thursday Feb. 2, 2012 file photo, BYU's Matt Carlino brings the ball down court during a game against Gonzaga in second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Provo, Utah. Reminders of Jimmermania are everywhere, from billboards near Brigham Young’s campus to racehorses named after last year's national college player of the year. His successor, Carlino, even had to endure chants of "You're Not Jimmer" at a recent game against Gonzaga. (George Frey, File, Associated Press)

PROVO — It isn’t rocket science.

The play of sophomore point guard Matt Carlino is critical if BYU is to continue to advance in the National Invitational Tournament and find a way to New York City.

Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws can do their thing. But the Cougars are at their best when Carlino ignites fast breaks, grabs steals and knocks down 3s.

The next chance to see this formula work together comes Monday at 7 p.m. in the Marriott Center when BYU hosts Mercer in the NIT's second round. In that game, a smart-executing opponent will sorely test the Cougar defense. But Davies and Haws will need some extra firepower of their own and the man to deliver it is Carlino.

In last Tuesday’s win over Washington, Carlino was quiet in the first half and went to the bench after a couple of turnovers. But in the second half, he was the difference (although Haws ended up with 37).

BYU's Matt Carlino tries to inbounds the ball as BYU and Washington play Tuesday, March 19, 2013 in the first round of the NIT in the Marriott Center at BYU. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Matt Carlino tries to inbounds the ball as BYU and Washington play Tuesday, March 19, 2013 in the first round of the NIT in the Marriott Center at BYU. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

A 24-win team, Mercer defeated Tennessee and Alabama on the road, and has won six straight postseason games. Mercer won the Atlantic Sun Conference, finishing a game ahead of Florida Gulf Coast, which just upset No. 2-seeded Georgetown 78-68 in the NCAA tournament.

Carlino, somebody needs you.

“It’s definitely a big boost for our team when he comes to play and gives us good minutes,” Haws told reporters this weekend. “It opens up the floor for everyone else.”

Carlino’s best point production this season came in a 96-79 win over Santa Clara on Feb. 7. He had 28 points and made 10 of 17 field goals, 3 of 6 from distance. He also had six assists. But the game he will be remembered most for during this season was a 19-point effort with five 3-pointers in a come-from-behind win over Utah in the Marriott Center on Dec. 8.

When Carlino is good, he is very good.

And his teammates saw that in the second half against Washington when Carlino confidently made a 3-point bomb just a few steps inside the midcourt decal.

It’s the kind of shot that makes teammates hold their breath. When it goes in, it really lifts the team. If it misses, well …

“He was phenomenal in that last game,” said senior Brock Zylstra, who named Carlino a key to scoring 90 points.

“I’d say the second half was phenomenal,” said Zylstra. “The first half he didn’t play as well. But when he’s running and passing the ball and knocking down shots — and I don’t know if he’s always going to be knocking down 45-foot shots — he plays well."

Zylstra especially credits Carlino’s passing on the break as a huge benefit for the Cougars; it does wonders for Davies and Haws.

“It gives us easy buckets in transition. When he’s running and throws that lob over the top, it is a great pass. A lot of people can’t do that, to hit it on target, because it’s hard to do. When we do that, it’s hard to stop.”

Carlino’s way has been an interesting mystery for coach Dave Rose. At times he appears almost unstoppable, like he did a year ago at San Francisco. At other times, when he scored zero against Florida State or just two points in losses to Notre Dame and St. Mary’s, it is a head scratcher.

Regardless, come Monday night, the Cougars need all hands on deck and that includes Carlino, who is a moving target of sorts. The man who followed Jimmer Fredette is hard to pin down.

Against Mercer, Carlino doesn’t have to be Jimmer. He just has to be the best Carlino.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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