OKLAHOMA CITY - The high-fiving, hugging, screaming, smiling and rolling around on the BYU locker room floor at the Ford Center on Thursday afternoon were 17 years of frustration busting loose in jubilation.
The Cougars, by escaping with a 99-92 double-overtime win against the Florida Gators, finally ended the eight-game NCAA losing streak that's haunted the program since BYU knocked off SMU in the first round in 1993.
"I'm really happy for this group of players. We've been through a lot," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We needed 99 points and two overtimes to get it done, but the guys got it done."
The Cougars had lost seven straight first-round games prior to Thursday's thrilling win, and were ousted in the first round each of the past three seasons.
"I just hope the next time we get in the NCAA and the next game we play that we're just playing for fun, we're not playing for 17 years and we're not playing for eight or nine other teams," Rose said.
Even though the streak is over, and a new and more positive one has started, Thursday's win was in doubt several times before BYU grabbed the lead in the second overtime and went on to outscore the Gators 18-11 in the final five minutes. Actually, the Cougars appeared to be comfortably ahead with a 13-point lead with nine minutes remaining before squandering the lead and needing a strong final-minute finish to force overtime.
At the end of regulation and the first overtime, the Gators had a shot each time for the win, but the misses gave the Cougars new life.
"We felt like we were still in the right spot and the right position to where we could win the game. That was the feeling that we had, that we could win the game," reserved guard Michael Loyd Jr. said.
Cougar junior guard Jimmer Fredette put on a show for the national audience with a game-high and BYU postseason record-tying 37 points. But the spark Loyd provided off the bench, with a career-high 26 points and four steals, was just as crucial in BYU's win. The Cougars advance to play Kansas State on Saturday.
"Mike Loyd was just terrific. He was on attack. He was disruptive defensively. And obviously he scored 26 points," Rose said.
Even though the Cougars went up 11-9 on a Jonathan Tavernari three, neither team could get on a roll early. When BYU switched to a zone midway through the opening half, however, the Gators did exactly what they needed to do and drilled three straight treys in a two-minute span to take a 22-17 lead, and force BYU back into a man defense. Florida, which scored on seven straight possessions, widened the lead to 28-21 with seven minutes left before intermission.
Insert Loyd, who then smacked Florida with an individual 10-0 run to vault BYU back in front 31-28. Loyd first hit a 3-pointer, then a runner in the lane, another 3-pointer and running bank shot.
"Everybody just needed to do their part, and my part just happened to be a bigger role than in the other games that I've had," Loyd said. "I just happened to have open shots, and when the ball came to me I just happened to make the play."
After a jumper by Tyler Haws, Florida"s Kenny Boynton was fouled on a 3-point attempt, and hit all three free throws to make it a 35-33 BYU lead at the break.
The Cougars' defensive heat to start the second half ignited BYU's offense, and another 10-0 run, this one fueled by a Fredette three and a trey by Jackson Emery, had the Cougars leading 59-46 with 9:15 remaining.
The Gators, slowly but surely, cut into that gap until regaining the lead 71-68 on a 3-pointer by Boynton with 2:41 remaining. In fact, a slew of 3-point possessions late in the game were behind Florida's comeback. Boynton, who scored a game-high 26 for the Gators hit four 3-pointers in the stretch and Florida also had four 2-and-1's.
"I thought maybe we got a little complacent, and thinking maybe Florida was going to roll over and we're just going to run away with the game," Emery said. "Once we figured they weren't going to die, we had to come back and find that desire again to win."
With BYU down 74-70 and struggling on offense, Jackson Emery, who was 1-of-6 at the time, stepped back and drilled a three from up top with 1:22 remaining to cut Florida's lead to one.
"He kind of backed off a little bit and it's so hard to get shots off over (6-foot-9 Chandler Parsons) but I jumped up and knew I had to stick it for the team," Emery said. "It felt good, and it looked good, and thank heavens it went in."
After Florida's Vernon Macklin hit 1-of-2 free throws, Fredette slipped through the paint to hit a left-handed banker with 26 seconds remaining to tie the game 75-75. The Gators worked for the final shot, and Parsons got a pretty good look but his 10-foot jumper from the right wing with two seconds left bounced back toward him.
"I felt like I had a good look and shot it," Parsons said. "I thought it was going down. It rode out. It happens. I'd like to have that shot again."
The Cougars were not out of the woods, however, and the Gators scored four straight to open the second overtime while the Cougars missed their first four shots. But Loyd came to the rescue once again and scored all of BYU's six points in the first overtime to keep Florida within sight.
It looked like the Cougars were going to get the final shot when Fredette grabbed a long rebound and headed down court, only to have the ball stolen away by Boynton near midcourt. But this time the Gators failed to get a good final look and a desperation tip by Macklin at the horn didn't come close.
"Those two plays they had that could have ended the game, I thought how we defended them right there showed our desire as a team to win the game," Emery said.
After dodging two bullets, BYU took control of the second overtime early when Loyd drilled a three from the left wing. The final dagger, however, was two long treys by Fredette - the second a towering bomb to beat the shot clock over the 6-foot-10 Macklin.
"No more one and done. We can start our own streak now with a different tradition," Emery said.
e-mail: [email protected]