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Mark A. Philbrick, Mark A. Philbrick
BYU's Noah Hartsock blocks a shot attempt from Dixie State's Mitch Frei in Friday's game in the Marriott Center.

PROVO — This was supposed to be an exhibition game. But it wasn't just an exhibition game to visiting Dixie State.

The Red Storm played inspired, shooting 58 percent in the second half and throwing a major scare into BYU Friday night at the Marriott Center before falling, 96-85.

It was much tighter than the final score indicated, as the Cougars didn't pull away until the final minute.

BYU coach Dave Rose — a Dixie State alumnus who coached there years ago before arriving in Provo — warned his players the Red Storm would be fired up for this contest, and he was right.

"Coach Rose told us they'd come out excited for this game," said forward Noah Hartsock. "Hats off to them. They're a good team and they gave us a good challenge."

"It was a real gut-check for us," said forward Stephen Rogers.

Dixie State coach Jon Judkins, brother of BYU's women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins, had his team well-prepared, and senior forward Griffon Jones poured in a game-high, and career-high, 26 points for the Red Storm.

"Jon's a great coach," Rose said. "He had his team believing that they could come in here and win."

For the Cougars, the good news is the tougher-than-expected exhibition battle should help prepare them for their season-opener next Friday at Utah State.

Rogers didn't start for BYU, but he sure did finish. He scored 19 points in 24 minutes and was one of four Cougars in double figures, along with Brock Zylstra (23), Brandon Davies (20) and Hartock (18).

In the final minute, Rogers nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Cougars some breathing room, 92-83.

"At the first of the game, I wasn't able to hit shots," said Rogers, who came off the bench midway through the first half. "I knew eventually they'd start falling. Fortunately, they did at the end of the game when we needed them."

Davies, meanwhile, scored seven points in the final four minutes, right after Dixie led for the final time, 78-77. The Cougars outscored the Red Storm, 19-7, the rest of the way.

"I'm pleased that our guys made plays down the stretch," Rose said.

After two of Dixie State's post players, Solomon Jensen and Dalton Groskreutz, fouled out late in the contest, BYU pounded the ball inside to Davies and Hartsock with success.

The loss exposed one glaring weakness for BYU — defense. Jones lit up the Cougars on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor.

"If we give up that many points to Utah State, we'll be on the losing end," said Hartsock, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

Rose said he noticed that Thursday's practice was "lackluster," which could have attributed to his team's play on Friday.

"Defensively, we have a lot of work to do," Rose said. "This (game) will help us. Dixie did a great job of spreading us out and attacking us … We've been better defensively in the past than we are right now."

BYU got off to a sluggish start, falling behind 12-2 in the opening minutes before Zylstra knocked down a 3-pointer — the Cougars' first field goal of the night. The Red Storm, powered by Jones' 14 first-half points, led 33-26 with 4:30 remaining until intermission.

"At first, we weren't dialed in like I wanted us to be," Rose said.

BYU outscored Dixie State, 15-2, to take a 41-35 halftime advantage. Rogers dropped in six of those points for the Cougars, including a steal-and-slam to pull BYU to within three. Then he nailed three consecutive free throws to tie the score. The Cougars grabbed their first lead, 35-33, with 1:53 left in the half on a jumper by Hartsock.

To start the second half, BYU built on that lead, only to watch Dixie State go on a 15-3 run to go ahead, 52-50, and make it a game again.

"We lacked certain attention to detail," Hartsock said. "We were out of sync defensively. That's something we need to address before playing at Utah State."

NOTES: Freshman Damarcus Harrison started for BYU but didn't score in 13 minutes of action … Senior Charles Abouo shot 0-for-10 from the field, and 0-for-5 from 3-point territory, but finished with six points after hitting all six of his free throw attempts … Dixie hit 5-of-8 3-pointers in the second half.

Email: jeffc@desnews.com