Playing well in moments of critical importance is the essence of postseason basketball, when every game is a do-or-die situation. BYU proved itself as a clutch team at the Marriott Center Monday night, beating the Mercer Bears in convincing fashion, 90-71, in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.
The third-seeded Cougars led from the second minute until the end, hassling Mercer with a high-speed transition game and boasting a number of scoring threats from every position. Four starters ended with double-digit points, and the Cougars finished scoring 46 percent from the field.
A rain of threes
The Cougars were lethal with their three-pointers from the very beginning, unapologetically scoring a trio of triples within the first two minutes of the game and giving BYU a comfortable 9-3 lead. In a game in which up-tempo play was the key to shutting down Mercer, the Cougars were able to rely on the long shot from Matt Carlino and Brock Zylstra to gain momentum and reinvigorate the crowd when they found Mercer too close for comfort. The two combined for 9-for-18 shooting beyond the arc, attempting a quick, long shot any time the Bears began to rally. Tyler Haws added another basket to put BYU at 42 percent from beyond the arc, giving the Cougars an important three-man threat at the perimeter and harassing the defense.
This danger from distance was the Cougars’ great equalizing force in critical moments. The long ball has historically been the weapon of choice for Mercer, which shot 9-for-22 from three-point land on Monday. Matt Carlino’s five treys tie him for the BYU record of three-point field goals scored in an NIT game.
Davies down under
Brandon Davies had a solid night under the basket with 26 points and 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. The BYU center proved to be a force in the paint early on with strong post-up moves and a pass-fake that tripped up his defense multiple times throughout the game. The outing marked his tenth double-double of the season and put him in the top ten scoring players in BYU history.
Davies’ success under the hoop was critical in counterbalancing his teammates’ frenzy of three-pointers. In addition to serving as a threat in the paint, he ran a high pick-and-roll early and often alongside Carlino; together the two tripped up the Mercer defense for several quick and easy baskets.
Odd and ends:
— Tyler Haws had a slow start, not scoring until the eighth minute of the game, when BYU was already up 17-8. By the end of the night, however, he was the Cougars’ second-top scorer, contributing 24 points as the recipient of several fast-break passes and energizing the crowd with a dunk and a critical saved possession.
— The Cougars outperformed in nearly every statistic, including field goal and free throw percentage, turnovers, point off turnovers, rebounds and second-chance points.
— Mercer shot 54 percent in the first half — in which it ended trailing the Cougars by nine points — but shot only 35 percent in the second.
The Cougars move on to the NIT quarterfinals and will face the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on Wednesday in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Jennifer Ball is a journalism student at Brigham Young University. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org