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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
BYU's Lee Cummard, center, battles with Air Force's Matt Holland, left, and Andrew Henke, right, for a loose ball during the game

PROVO — Around BYU, they call it "Marriott Magic."

That's one explanation for the Cougars' amazing dominance at the Marriott Center. Or maybe it refers to the way they made Air Force disappear Saturday night during an overwhelming second-half surge.

BYU broke open what had been a tight game and raced to a 76-57 victory over the Falcons to move a step closer to capturing its second consecutive Mountain West Conference regular-season championship.

Oh, yeah, and the Cougars won (yawn) their 46th consecutive game at home, which is the longest homecourt winning streak in the country.

With about four minutes remaining in the first half, however, it appeared the Falcons were poised to threaten that streak. BYU was nursing a 26-24 advantage before scoring the final six points of the first half and the first 10 points of the second half. Suddenly, it was 42-24 for the Cougars.

"We opened it up and the floodgates kind of opened and we started pouring it on," said BYU center Trent Plaisted, who scored a game-high 20 points in only 26 minutes of action.

But the Cougars were far from finished at that point. They went on to outscore the Falcons 21-7 over the next six minutes and took their biggest lead of 32 points — 63-31 — at the 10-minute mark of the second half after a Jonathan Tavernari 3-pointer. That capped a 37-7 run that spanned 15 minutes.

Now you see Air Force. Now you don't.

Speaking of "Marriott Magic," Tavernari turned in an impressive sleight-of-hand play himself during that big scoring spurt. The sophomore from Brazil had a no-look, two-hands-over-the-head backward pass to Plaisted under the basket that resulted in a resounding dunk — it also drew a foul for a 3-point play — and prompted a thunderous roar from the crowd of 17,427.

"We don't actually practice it, but I knew it was coming because I know JT. It was a great pass," Plaisted said. "He deserves that basket. Those were his two points. I was lucky enough to finish."

"I was going to pass him the ball somehow," Tavernari explained. "It was a little anticipation. It worked and the crowd went wild. I'll see that on Coach (Dave) Rose's (TV) show Sunday night."

So what fueled that huge scoring output?

"I thought we came out in the second half and played with a lot of confidence," Rose said. "Defensively, we were more aggressive, especially from the weak side and we were able to help on a lot of the penetration that hurt us in the first half. We were able to push the ball and aggressively attack the basket offensively."

"It was a lot of really good team play," Plaisted said. "I know I was the recipient of a lot of good passes, especially from JT. I think that was the story of the whole night, especially in the second half. Guys were sharing the ball, giving up a good shot for a better shot. It kind of took hold throughout our whole team."

Air Force scored only one field goal over the first 10 minutes of the second half, and Tavernari credited the defense for the way BYU was able to pull away from another opponent.

"The defensive end is going to determine how far we go this season," Tavernari said. "Defense is the most important thing. Defense wins championships. Even I've bought into that."

Senior guard Tim Anderson scored the Falcons' first five points of the game and scored nine points in the first half. But the Cougars held him scoreless in the second half.

"Overall, I thought we played well in the first half, but we got out of control and couldn't control BYU in the second half," said Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds, whose team shot only 31 percent. "We just couldn't make our shots."

BYU point guard Ben Murdock, who suffered an ankle sprain in the win over New Mexico earlier in the week, started and played 26 minutes. He scored three points and added four assists, a block and a steal.

"He's one of the toughest kids I've ever met in my life. Him and (guard) Sam Burgess," Tavernari said. "The water in Utah is really strong or something. Those two kids are like Rocky Balboa. They're so tough and they're role models for us. I never had a doubt in my heart that Ben would play. He played well."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com