The BYU Cougars won a closer-than-it-should-have-been first-round Mountain West Conference Tournament game Thursday against TCU by, for the second straight game, playing bigger than expected.
With a thin front line, the Cougars still outrebound the Horned Frogs 33-25 and amazingly had an 11-5 edge on offensive boards. That resulted in the Cougars finishing with a 17-2 advantage in second-chance points and a 26-20 edge in points in the paint. No second-chance points were bigger than Noah Hartsock's two put-back baskets that gave BYU a 48-44 lead, a lead the Cougars never relinquished again.
The Frogs stayed close by outshooting BYU 45 percent to 42 percent and by hitting 47 percent from 3-point range to BYU's 26 percent. Two of BYU's main offensive threats both had off games — with Jimmer Fredette making only 7 of 21 shots and Jackson Emery 3 of 13. Fredette scored a game-high 24, but opened the second half making 1 of 9.
Fortunately for BYU, Charles Abouo (14 points) was 6 of 8 from the floor.
The Cougars also had an edge from the free-throw line, making 16 of 21 free throws, while TCU was only 9 of 15.
The Horned Frogs led 34-33 at halftime because of their long-range shooting. They opened the game hitting 6 of 8 from 3-point range.
The Cougars tried to disrupt TCU's rhythm by switching from a 2-3 zone to a 1-2-2 zone in hopes of taking away those wing shots. That was only partially effective, however, as the Frogs finished the first half shooting 58 percent from 3-point range. The Cougars, on the other hand, were only 4 of 13 on 3-point shots at the break.
The Cougars also tried their reliable man defense, but when starters Charles Abouo and Kyle Collinsworth picked up two fouls in the opening half, BYU had to switch back to a zone.
The foul troubles were worse for TCU as both Hank Thorns, who had 13 first-half points on 3 of 3 from 3-point range, and fellow starter J.R. Cadot picked up three fouls each before the intermission.
While losing the small-man war, the Cougars were ironically winning the big-guy war at the intermission with a 14-6 advantage in points in the paint. At one point in the first half, the Cougars even held a four-rebound advantage but finished four boards short of TCU at the break.
Perhaps the most telling number in the first 20 minutes was BYU's failure to score even one point in transition. The Cougars finished with only four fast-break points. The game was certainly played at TCU's pace as the Cougars scored more than 20 points under their average.
The Cougars never did put together one of their trademark runs, and they gave TCU life several times with untimely turnovers. Even though BYU finished with only 12 turnovers, eight of those came in the second half and six in the first nine minutes of the second half.