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Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
DAYTON, OH - MARCH 13: Brandon Davies #0 of the Brigham Young Cougars shoots the ball over Mike Glover #1 of the Iona Gaels in the first half in the first round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at UD Arena on March 13, 2012 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Comeback Cougs: BYU overcomes 25-point deficit to advance over Iona in NCAA Tournament

In one of the most remarkable games in Brigham Young University basketball history, the Cougars turned what was once a 25-point deficit into a six-point victory over the Iona Gaels, winning 78-72 in an absolutely stunning turn of events.

After a dramatic Western Kentucky-Mississippi Valley State opener, the second of the NCAA Tournaments First Four games was even more exhilarating, and in many ways, more unbelievable. Behind a display of grittiness, hustle, and smarts, the Cougars overcame what felt like an insurmountable lead for the Gaels to move on to face number three seed Marquette on Thursday.

Senior forward Noah Hartsock led the charge with 23 points and five rebounds. His marksmanship was huge in the victory, nailing 10 of 14 from the field. Frontcourt partner Brandon Davies was extremely impactful inside with 18 points and 15 boards.

Iona was led by the nation’s leader in assists, Scott Machado. The crafty point guard had 15 points and 10 assists, with nine of those dimes coming in the first 20 minutes.

It was truly a tale of two halves, as explained below.

It was the worst of times: Iona jumped on the Cougars from the opening tap and produced a brilliant showing on both ends of the court. Offensively they were dominant, scoring quickly and efficiently. The Gaels took every opportunity to run on their stunned BYU opponents. Behind an array of smooth forays to the hoop, stellar passing, and precision perimeter shooting, they jumped to a 55-40 halftime lead. Essentially all that could go well, did for Iona.

Conversely, all that could go wrong for BYU, did. The Cougars looked sloppy and awestruck, forcing a lot of questionable shots and turning the ball over to the tune of 13 miscues. They were slow to loose balls and many of the Gael’s shots and drives came uncontested.

It was the best of times: In night-and-day fashion, the whole tenor of the game changed quickly as BYU implemented an effective zone defense that baffled and confused Iona. The Cougars held the highest scoring team in the country to a paltry 17 second-half points. In a reversal of roles, Iona could not hold on to the ball and their turnovers led to many scoring opportunities for BYU.

The Cougars actually scored less in the second half — 38 points — than they did in the first, but it was enough to garner the victory.

Bench bringing it: While some of the starters struggled mightily — namely forward Charles Abouo and guard Matt Carlino — the BYU reserves stepped up their game and were integral cogs in the dramatic comeback win.

Demarcus Harrison brought much needed energy and athleticism into the first half and then was part of the unit that made the big run in the second. He scored 12 points off the pine, including a pair of big three-pointers.

He may have been scoreless, but point guard Craig Cusick made his presence known. He orchestrated the offense extremely well en route to a team-high eight assists. He added five rebounds, two steals, and some determined defense that propelled the Cougars in the second half.

Anson Winder, with Brock Zylstra getting the start Tuesday, added eight points in a reserve role.

David Smith is providing instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage this season. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.