Saunders' career-high paces BYU to 86-54 win over Georgia State

Richie Saunders came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points as No. 18 BYU cruised to an 86-54 win over Georgia State on Saturday night at the Marriott Center.


PROVO, Utah — Richie Saunders came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points as No. 18 BYU cruised to an 86-54 win over Georgia State on Saturday night at the Marriott Center. 

"We're one of three teams in the country with nine players that have career highs of 20 or more," said BYU head coach Mark Pope. "You have nine guys that have proven they're capable of putting two dimes down. It's pretty great. Right? Depth is required if you're going to be a high level basketball team."

Saunders’ career-high came on an 8-of-14 shooting performance complemented by six rebounds and a steal. Trevin Knell, Noah Waterman and Dallin Hall each posted double-figures as well. 

Knell shot 5-of-9 from the field for 15 points and brought in six boards. Waterman scored 13 points and notched six rebounds. Hall scored 12 points, all from beyond the arc, while grabbing four boards, six assists and snagging two steals.

Spencer Johnson continued to show up throughout the stat sheet with eight points, four boards and seven assists. Johnson has now recorded five or more assists in seven of 11 games this season. Dawson Baker saw his first action of the season against the Panthers and scored six points in the second half on 3-of-5 shooting.

As a team, the Cougars outshot Georgia State 46-37 percent with 15 3-pointers to the Panthers’ six. BYU converted 16 forced turnovers into 15 points the other way with 21 points in the fast break. Nine Georgia State turnovers came on BYU steals. The Cougars had just four turnovers of their own, outrebounded the Panthers 40-35 and outscored the visitors 35-15 in bench points.

BYU assisted on 23 of 32 made field goals while allowing only seven Georgia State assists on 20 field goal makes.

First Half

Aly Khalifa set the tone for BYU in the opening four minutes as he recorded a 3-pointer, two rebounds, a block and a steal to help spark the Cougars after an 0-for-3 start from the field.

Triples from Knell and Hall, along with two free-throw makes from Waterman helped BYU jump out to an 11-2 lead. Hall extended that lead to 14-4 moments later with a 3-pointer deep off the left wing.

The Panthers benefited from a 2:50 Cougar scoring drought to come within six at 14-8. Saunders took the lid off the bucket for BYU with a lay-in through contact followed by scores from Robinson and Trey Stewart that put the Cougars back up 21-8.

Georgia State found momentum in the later stages of the half with a 10-0 run and came within five at 31-26. Saunders kept the Cougars in front with 10-straight points of his own, the last of which came on a 3-pointer to spark a responsive 8-0 run for BYU to end the half.

Khalifa continued his signature delivery service for the Cougars with assists on each of BYU’s final field goals of the half. The junior center slung the ball to Hall for a 3-pointer that put BYU back up by double digits at 37-26. Moments later, Khalifa found Knell under the basket for an easy lay-in.

BYU went to the locker room up 39-26 having narrowly outshot Georgia State 44-43 percent. The Cougars’ nine first-half 3-pointers outdueled the Panthers’ two. BYU assisted on 11 of its 14 field goals and forced eight turnovers while giving away just two of its own. Georgia State hung around with 19 rebounds to BYU’s 17 and 18 points in the paint to the Cougars’ eight.

Saunders led all scorers at the break with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting including 2-of-2 from deep. Hall scored nine for BYU in the half, all of which came from 3-point range.

Second Half

BYU opened the first half with each of its first three field goals coming from beyond the arc. The Cougars opened the second half in similar fashion with their first 12 points each coming on 3-point plays.

Waterman knocked down BYU’s first triple of the half with Johnson assisting on the score on a driving baseline pass in transition. The next Cougar possession saw Knell camp out in the corner and nail a 3-pointer. Johnson then scored through contact and knocked down a free throw for an old-fashioned 3-point play on BYU’s next trip down the floor.  The Cougars found their first 20-point lead of the night moments later with Waterman swishing another trey then scoring in transition after a steal from Hall.

Knell kept the BYU’s lead large and in charge midway through the half with seven-straight points. The sharpshooter knocked down two free-throws followed by a floater in the lane and a transition triple that ballooned BYU’s lead to 68-41 with 8:33 to play.

Baker scored his first points of the season with a floater, pull-up jumper and jumper off an inbounds pass in the waning minutes of the game.

Waterman’s 11 second-half points and Knell’s 10 helped the Cougars put up 47 points in the second half as they finished off Georgia State and recorded their fifth 30-point win of the season.

BYU returns to the hardwood as it hosts Bellarmine on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. MST. Watch the Cougars face the Knights on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ or listen to live play-by-play on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143, Radio app or KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM.

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