MORAGA, Calif. — This time, BYU delivered a few daggers from an unlikely spot on the floor.
The free-throw line.
And this time, there was nothing Matthew Dellavedova, who was the guest of honor at McKeon Pavilion Saturday night, could do about it.
On a night that saw St. Mary’s retire the No. 4 jersey of Dellavedova — the guy that (in)famously drilled a 40-footer to beat the Cougars last year in Provo, widely known as the “Dellavedagger” — BYU eked out a thrilling 60-57 victory over the Gaels before a sellout crowd of 3,500.
Coach Dave Rose praised his team’s “gutsy effort” against St. Mary’s.
“The guys just reached down and found a way,” he said. “It wasn’t our best game by far, but it was good enough for tonight. That’s a great win.”
“It feels so good to beat those guys. It’s always a grind-it-out battle,” said guard Tyler Haws, who scored a game-high 18 points. “I’m really proud of our guys and our coaches. We never doubted. I think we got down 12 or 13, but we just kept battling.”
The Cougars overcame injuries to Kyle Collinsworth and Luke Worthington, foul trouble, poor 3-point shooting (1 of 8), and poor overall free-throw shooting (11 of 19) to beat St. Mary's here for the first time ever.
BYU improved to 18-10 overall and 10-5 in the West Coast Conference while the Gaels dropped to 19-8 and 9-5.
The Cougars clawed back from a 12-point second-half deficit, and took just their second lead of the game with 2:46 remaining on a wild tip-in by Nate Austin. It was one of his 11 rebounds.
And in the closing 5.1 seconds, Matt Carlino and Skyer Halford each knocked down a pair of free throws to preserve the victory.
The Cougars have lost their share of games on the road due in part to dismal free-throw shooting this season.
“It feels so good,” Haws said. “We missed a lot of free throws (Saturday), but we knocked them down when we needed to at the end. Skyler and Matt hit two big ones.”
“After Matt missed that first one-and-one (with 33.7 seconds left), I knew that he’d be clutch and hit those two,” Austin said. “Skyler has been a money shooter in his career. I knew both those guys would step up and hit those free throws.”
BYU trailed by 10 at halftime, 35-25, but the Cougars believed they were still in position to win the game.
“Even though we were down 14, it didn’t feel like we were down by that much,” Austin said. “We knew if we got some stops and some scores, we’d be right back in the game.”
“We didn’t have our best half. All of us knew we could play better,” Haws said. “The coaches gave us a lot of confidence, saying, ‘Just keep battling, keep fighting, it’s going to turn our way.’ That’s what we did and eventually, the tides turned.”
BYU actually fell behind by 12 early in the second half. But midway through the half, the Cougars found their offensive rhythm. They shot 57 percent (12 of 21) from the floor over the final 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, BYU’s zone defense helped limit St. Mary’s to 32 percent (8 of 25) in the second half. The Gaels recorded just one field goal over the final 6:30 of the contest. The Cougars forced 14 St. Mary's turnovers on the night.
A steal by Haws, and subsequent pass to Carlino for a fast-break layup, was Carlino’s first two points of the game after pouring in 28 in last Thursday’s loss at Pacific. It was a play that tied the game at 53-all at the 3:45 mark.
One minute later, a Carlino 3-point attempt bounced out to Austin, who tapped the ball high in the air. The ball eventually settled into the net, giving the Cougars their first lead since making the first basket of the game.
“I was trying to keep the ball alive,” Austin explained. “I was actually trying to tip the ball up on the glass so I could go back and get it. Luckily, it went in. It was a big play that finally gave us the lead. It felt good.”
In the waning seconds, BYU’s defense came up big, forcing turnovers by St. Mary’s guard Kerry Carter.
“The first one, I cut (Carter) off at the side and he dribbled it off the ref’s foot,” Austin said. “It was a good play by the ref. The second time, Matt got a hand on it.”
The second Gael turnover gave BYU — nursing a 56-55 advantage — the ball with 7.2 seconds left. St. Mary’s fouled Carlino after he took the inbounds pass. With 33.7 left, Carlino had missed the front end of a one-and-one.
But he sank both free throws to put the Cougars up, 58-55.
With a 3-point lead, Rose had his players foul Stephen Holt rather than risk giving up a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Holt made both shots with four seconds remaining, then St. Mary’s immediately fouled Halford with 3.2 seconds left.
Halford also knocked down both of his attempts from the charity stripe. They were his only two points of the game.
BYU once again fouled Holt with 1.6 seconds left on the clock. Holt intentionally missed the free throw to try to get a 3-point attempt, but the Cougars secured the rebound as the final buzzer sounded.
And there was nothing that Dellavedova could do about it.
BYU hosts league-leading Gonzaga Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company