PROVO — In its first-round National Invitation Tournament game against Washington, BYU benefited from consistent scoring by Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, who finished with 37 and 22 points, respectively.
But the difference maker in the Cougars' 90-79 victory over the Huskies on Tuesday before a crowd of 7,511 at the Marriott Center was mercurial point guard Matt Carlino, who did almost all of his work in the second half.
After struggling over the first 20 minutes, Carlino bounced back in a big way, orchestrating BYU's transition offense to near perfection.
Carlino played just eight minutes in the first half and had two points, one rebound and four turnovers as the Cougars trailed at halftime, 35-33. But in the second half, Carlino scored 18 points (he ended up with 20), dished out nine assists, grabbed six rebounds and recorded two steals. He was also 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.
"Matt kind of took control of the game four or five minutes into the second half," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "His ability to push the ball — he made some great passes in transition. Matt was disappointed in the first half and he wanted to play better in the second half. We encouraged him as a staff and I kind of pulled him aside and had a few words for him (at halftime). He's a great competitor. I'm happy for him because he put together a great half and kind of led us to that win. We needed leadership from that position. Down the stretch, he was terrific."
How did Carlino make such a dramatic turnaround?
"It was just knowing that it was win-or-go-home," he said. "It was really fun to play out there. I didn't start off the second half even that well, but (Rose) kept me in there and we got rolling."
Carlino "got away from us" in the second half, said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar.
With the victory, BYU improved to 22-11 on the season. Washington finished its season with an 18-16 mark.
The Cougars will host a second-round game in the coming days against the winner of Wednesday night's game between No. 2 Tennessee and No. 7 Mercer.
"We're really happy to win the game and advance in this tournament," said Rose. "We look forward to what's next."
Haws, who was battling an illness in the Cougars' previous game, a loss to San Diego in the West Coast Conference quarterfinals, was back to normal Tuesday. He hit 15 of 24 shots from the field — including 9 of 12 in the second half — and set BYU's single-game NIT scoring record. The Cougars' previous best was 28 points scored by Roland Minson in the 1951 NIT.
"I just tried to keep playing on attack," said Haws. "We had a really good week of practice. Our guys were hungry. We were ready to play tonight. We want to keep playing basketball."
Pleasant Grove native C.J. Wilcox, who grew up playing with and against Haws, scored a team-high 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting for the Huskies.
The Cougars found their groove in the second half, as they were able to rebound and run. BYU led by as many as 11 midway through the half.
"I think the altitude really got to them," Carlino said of Washington. "I think they hit a wall, and we just kept running."
"We played against a team that was very good in transition," Romar said. "Tyler Haws is an exceptional basketball player. I thought we did a decent job in the first half of not giving them too much in transition. In the second half, a couple of times we shot the ball too quickly. They were able to capitalize off our quick misses. Being the team that they are, they took advantage of it. I thought Matt Carlino's 18 points in the second half may have been the difference."
BYU led by as many as seven in the first half, thanks in large part to Haws' scoring barrage.
Washington started heating up from the outside, burying four 3-pointers over the final eight minutes. The Huskies turned a 20-13 deficit into a 30-27 advantage after Andrew Andrews hit his second 3-pointer.
The Cougars took a 33-32 lead after Haws knocked down a pair of free throws, but Wilcox hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to lift the Huskies to a 35-33 edge at intermission.
In the first half, Washington drained 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc. BYU was just 2 of 12 from 3-point territory.
It was a different story in the second half, as the Cougars went 5 of 10 from 3-point range while the Huskies were just 8 of 22.
NOTES: BYU forward Josh Sharp (Achilles) and guard Raul Delgado (tailbone) did not play Tuesday. Haws has scored 706 points this season, becoming the fifth Cougars to score 700 in one season. It stands as BYU's sixth-highest single-season point total.