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LAIE -- BYU suffered its second heartbreaking loss to a ranked opponent in two nights as it fell 70-67 to No. 13 USC at the Yahoo! Sports Invitational on Saturday.
The Cougars played an outstanding first half and led by 18 points at the break thanks in part to two techical fouls and ejection of Trojan head coach Henry Bibby. The Cougar's defense also held USC to 27 percent shooting and 23 points in the first half. But USC came out in the second half a different team and began to pound the ball inside to its physical front line of Brian Scalabrine and Sam Clancy. Quickly the Trojans got to the foul line and started to cut into the Cougar lead.
"We just lost our composure in the second half," BYU head coach Steve Cleveland said. "When Mekeli (Wesley) picked up his fourth foul early we lost our scoring presence inside."
BYU, who led for 37 minutes of the game, relinquished its lead with three minutes to play on a Clancy fadeaway jumper. But the Cougars didn't let the game slip away. Terrell Lyday hit a three pointer with under two minutes left to play to cut a Trojan four-point lead to one. Then on USC's next possesion the Trojans were called for an offensive foul and BYU had a chance to take the lead with a minute to play.
As the shot clock wound down Freshman Jake Chrisman found himself open and missed a ten-foot jump shot. USC rebounded with 42 seconds left on the shot clock and a one point lead. It looked as if the Cougars might make the defensive stand but 5-foot 9 inch point guard Brandon Granville snuck baseline around BYU to lay the ball in with no time on the shot clock. The Cougars had one last chance with seven seconds left, but attempts to set up Trent Whiting for a final shot took too long and time expired before he could attempt a field goal.
USC got to the foul line 35 times with Scalabrine taking 16 of the Trojan's foul shots. Eric Nielsen and Nate Knight both fouled out.
"It seemed liked they (USC) were on the free throw line the whole second half," Cleveland said.
Wesley, who led BYU with 19 points, played his third impressive offensive performance of the tournament and was one of five players named to the All-Tournament Team. He was seven of 10 from the field, but only played 25 minutes because of foul trouble. Lyday was solid as well scoring 17 and connecting on four assists for the Cougars. Whiting and Eric Nielsen also scored in double figures for BYU with 12 and 10 points respectively.
The Cougars lost the previous night to No. 27 Iowa State in another nail-biter 71-77. But the loss to the Trojans was the tougher pill to swallow.
"It hurts real bad to lose this one," Cleveland said. "This was a big game for our guys and they played well enough to win, but it just didn't happen tonight."
The Cougars now must prepare for four more non-conference games beginning Dec. 28 at Weber State followed by a home matchup against a solid South Alabama team on Dec. 30.