I think that Nate's effort the last month and a half of the season has been terrific. We had a hard time keeping him on the floor because he was in foul trouble quite a bit. But the last three or four games he's just been so valuable to our team and it's just a great experience for a young guy. —Dave Rose, BYU basketball coach
NEW YORK CITY — BYU forward Nate Austin embraced the bright lights and big stage of Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. And he also embraced the challenge of playing against Baylor's physically big opponents.
In Tuesday's National Invitation Tournament semifinal against Baylor, Austin contributed in numerous ways — drawing charges, diving for loose balls, rebounding missed shots, blocking shots, and scoring points.
Austin scored nine points — all in the first half — and grabbed 11 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, in the Cougars' 76-70 setback.
The sophomore from Lone Peak High gave BYU its biggest lead, 17-13, after a jumper midway through the first half.
All in all, Austin enjoyed playing against the Bears' imposing, athletic frontline that features 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin and 6-9 forward Cory Jefferson.
"I think playing against bigger guys, with my length and stuff like that, it's fun for me to go against competition like that, especially in a game like this," Austin said.
BYU coach Dave Rose said Austin has been one of the bright spots for his team for the last several games.
"I think that Nate's effort the last month and a half of the season has been terrific," Rose said. "We had a hard time keeping him on the floor because he was in foul trouble quite a bit. But the last three or four games he's just been so valuable to our team and it's just a great experience for a young guy. He's a sophomore with two more years, and I think he really found a niche, how he could help our team. He got his hand on a lot of balls that he doesn't get credit for, rebounding-wise. But obviously 11 rebounds tonight, seven of them on the offensive boards, those were opportunities for us to get more shots."
FAREWELL, SENIORS: Tuesday's loss marked the final game at BYU for seniors Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick.
Austin said he was inspired by his senior teammates.
"I just wanted to give it my all because I learned so much from guys like Craig and Brock and Brandon," Austin said. "I just wanted to play well and play hard for them."
BATTLING THE BEARS ON THE BOARDS: There was at least one stat that Rose was pleased with Tuesday. The Cougars outrebounded Baylor, 40-33.
"We outrebounded them, and I think that speaks volumes to the effort that we got from our players," Rose said.
THIRD TIME NOT A CHARM: BYU has now dropped three consecutive games to the Bears, including two this season.
The Cougars fell to Baylor in Waco, Texas, last December, 79-64. Baylor defeated BYU in Provo in 2011, 86-83.