Cougars fall 3-2 in final regular season match at No. 13 USC

BYU's record-setting 12 aces were not enough in five-set battle against conference opponent No. 13 USC as the Cougars fell 3-2 (25-20, 25-27, 28-26, 27-29, 16-18) on Saturday evening at the Galen Center in their final match of the regular season.

24mVLB vs UC Irvine 1-27 058mobile image - kupono browne

LOS ANGELES — BYU's record-setting 12 aces were not enough in five-set battle against conference opponent No. 13 USC as the Cougars fell 3-2 (25-20, 25-27, 28-26, 27-29, 16-18) on Saturday evening at the Galen Center in their final match of the regular season.

Sophomore middle blocker Ethan Gant led the BYU defense with a career-high and match-high nine blocks. He also added a career-high seven kills on a .400 hitting percentage. BYU’s pin hitters Kupono Browne, Miks Ramanis and Luke Benson all registered double-digit kills, for the second night in a row, totaling 51 of BYU's 70 kills. Browne led all players with 20, while Ramanis finished with 16 and Benson totaled 15 kills. Middle blocker Gavin Julien also recorded double-digit kills, finishing with 11 kills on 15 swings. Setter Tyler Herget also reached a new career-high of 59 assists. 

The Cougars (16-8, 7-5 MPSF) fought by putting up a season-high of 12 aces, with five from Ramanis and five from Browne. Twelve aces tonight is the most recorded by BYU in a single match since Jan. 7, 2017, tied for the fifth-most in BYU's rally scoring era. The last, and only other, instance two players have recorded five aces in the same match in BYU history occurred on Mar. 25, 2022 when Browne and All-American Davide Gardini both recorded five aces on the road against Pepperdine.

USC (12-12, 3-7 MPSF) outhit the Cougars with a .321 team hitting percentage compared to BYU's .281 team clip. The Trojans also led in digs with a season-high of 50, with BYU recording 42 digs in the match. Freshman outside hitter Noah Roberts led the Trojans with 19 kills on a .593 clip, including nine digs and four blocks.

The match lasted three hours and two minutes, BYU's longest match in 2024.

Set One

BYU gained a quick 7-3 lead, forcing USC’s first timeout of the night. Ramanis would serve his second ace of the night to gain a 15-9 advantage, immediately leading into a BYU block, causing USC to burn its final timeout of the set, trailing by seven. 

A block and kill by Gant gave BYU the 22-16 edge, but USC would fight to win the next three of four points. A kill by Browne gave BYU the set point at 24-19, and USC stayed alive through one more point until Benson knocked it down to secure the 25-20 victory. 

Benson led the Cougars with five kills in the first frame, hitting .444 on nine swings. Gant led all players in the first set with four total blocks. 

Set Two

Following up on their momentum in the first set, the Cougars opened set two by going on a 4-0 run to earn a 5-1 lead, including kills from Browne and Gant, with a third ace registered by Ramanis. Another run for the Cougars gave BYU an 8-2 lead, but the Trojans would then go on a 3-0 run of their own, cutting BYU’s lead to 8-5.

The Trojans got within striking distance as they found themselves down one point at 12-11 after earning three straight points, but BYU answered by claiming the next five points, including winning a long rally where USC recorded four consecutive digs.

BYU chose to take its first timeout of the night when USC cut BYU’s lead back down to three points at 18-15. USC would reach another one-point deficit at 21-20, but a 2-0 run followed by BYU gave the Cougars a 23-20 lead. USC tied the set at 23-23 for the first even score after a kill by Noah Roberts, his fifth of the night. The Trojans earned a set point at 24-23 after recording an ace, but BYU’s Browne evened it at 24 with a kill. After another tie at 25, USC would secure the 1-1 equalizer after gaining back-to-back kills, winning set two 27-25.

Set Three

The Cougars opened the third set with a 3-0 run, including back-to-back kills from Browne. Ramanis tied his career-high of five aces, the second time he has done so this season, to even the score at 5-5. Browne would then register BYU’s sixth ace of the night, awarding himself 75 career aces as the ninth-most all-time in BYU men’s volleyball history.

A 5-0 run by the Trojans gave USC a 14-9 lead, including four errors committed by BYU. The Cougars called a timeout when down just one point late in set three at 21-20 after a Noa Haine ace, and a kill by Ramanis would even the score at 21 points. Three consecutive kills by Ramanis gave BYU a one-point lead at 23-22, but USC would earn the next two points to gain a set point at 24-23, with BYU calling a timeout. After ties at 25 and 26, back-to-back aces from Browne secured BYU a 28-26 set win.

Set Four 

An ace from Gant and Browne tied the fourth set at five, taking BYU’s ace total to 11. Neither team would score more than two points in a row until the Cougars went on a 3-0 run to tie the set at 14 points, including back-to-back kills from Benson. After four more ties, USC found a 20-18 lead after back-to-back kills, leading to a BYU timeout.

After trailing by three points at 21-18, BYU fought its way back to tie the set at 21 after back-to-back kills from Ramanis, initiating a USC timeout. The score was even again at 22 and 23 when Benson's 16th kill of the night gave BYU a match point at 24-23. BYU then experienced a service error when another kill by Benson gave BYU a second match point at 25-24. The Cougars called a timeout when USC reached its first set point at 27-26 after two BYU errors. The Trojans would go on to win it 29-27 off a BYU attack error, taking the match into a decisive fifth set.

Set Five

Both teams would trade points back and forth until BYU gained a 5-3 lead after Browne recorded his fifth ace of the evening. The Cougars mustered a three-point lead at 7-4, causing a USC timeout. Ramanis fired off his 15th kill of the night for BYU to take another three-point lead at 8-5.

Back-to-back kills from Gant and Browne then gave BYU a 10-6 edge. The Trojans crept back to get within two at 11-9, provoking a Cougar timeout. With ties at 12 and 13, the Cougars looked to retake a lead before Gavin Julien gave BYU a match point at 15-14. In the following play, the officials called a USC ball out until a challenge call issued by the Trojans reversed the winning match point in favor of BYU to tie it back at 15. USC would win it by going on a 3-0 run to secure a 18-16 win in set five, defeating BYU 3-2.

Up Next

With at least one win over USC, BYU locked up the No. 3 seed in this year's MPSF Tournament. The Cougars have completed their regular season and will have a bye-week before they next compete in the conference quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. PDT on April 17 against the six seed. The 2024 MPSF Tournament is hosted by USC and is held from April 17-20.