NEW YORK CITY — With its 76-70 loss to Baylor in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, BYU fell one game short of playing for the NIT championship, and fell one victory short of another 25-win season.
While the Cougars' streak of six 25-win seasons and six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances both ended this year, their remarkable NIT run, which featured victories over Washington, Mercer and Southern Miss, is sure to boost the future of the program.
"For the young guys who (played), they get a lot of postseason tournament experience," said coach Dave Rose, who led his team to a 24-12 record in 2012-13. "The most important thing for our program is the expectation. New players who come in will understand that the expectation for our team is to get to the postseason and advance. There are a lot of things we need to address and get better at. But that core understanding is that it's important for us to get to the postseason, and when we get to postseason, we advance. The first four years (under Rose), we went to the NIT and the NCAA tournament and we got eliminated in the first round. Those were some really tough years. The guys have responded so well to this challenge."
BYU has won seven postseason games since 2010, and the Cougars are looking to return to the NCAA tournament next season.
What did the NIT experience mean to this team?
"It just gives us really good experience, being in a tournament and advancing," said guard Tyler Haws. "We'd like to be in the NCAA tournament, but this is good experience for our guys, being a young team, to advance in the tournament and be involved in a Final Four. It's a great experience."
BYU will lose three seniors, including some of the most prolific players in school history, forward Brandon Davies, who finished his career in the top 10 at BYU in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, steals, double-doubles, and wins played in.
Also graduating are guards Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick. Freshman Cory Calvert will soon leave for an LDS mission.
Among those returning include Haws and Matt Carlino. Haws, who returned home from a mission just one year ago, led the West Coast Conference in scoring and poured in 780 points this season. Only four Cougars have scored more in a single campaign — Jimmer Fredette, Devin Durrant, Michael Smith and Danny Ainge.
Carlino, who had an up-and-down campaign, played his best basketball during the NIT.
"Matt is a guy who is kind of a streaky offensive player, and I think when you look to the future with Matt, there's so much potential," Rose said. "But the most important thing is consistency with Matt, and I think that will be his focus and our focus. But I think the confidence that he received from the last few weeks will really help him over the off-season."
Others coming back include forward Nate Austin, who was also instrumental in the Cougars' NIT success, and Josh Sharp, who missed postseason play with an Achilles injury.
Guard Kyle Collinsworth, who played significant minutes for BYU in 2010-2011, is scheduled to return home from an LDS mission.
"Kyle was an integral part of our success prior to his mission," Rose has said. "Our staff loves Kyle’s versatility. He’s a great ball handler and decision maker and has a unique gift to make plays with the ball in his hands. At 6-foot-6, his length and his athleticism make him one of the true special players in the country. Kyle is a difference-maker. With the experience he gained his freshman year he’ll bring great leadership to our program and we are thrilled to have him back."
The Cougars have also signed a pair of forwards, Lone Peak star Eric Mika, and Luke Worthington from Wisconsin. Both players will join the program next season.
"Eric is rated as one of the top big men in the country," Rose said. "More importantly, he is a perfect fit for how we play at BYU. He has the ability to run the floor, attack the rim, and score with his back to the basket. These attributes combined with his great work ethic and his fierce competitiveness will be key to his growth as an individual and the future success and growth of our program."
BYU has also received a commitment from Salt Lake Community College guard Skyler Halford, who redshirted one season at Utah State prior to serving a Mormon mission. Halford will have two years of eligibility at BYU.
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