Austin Rustand | Posted: 22 Dec 2021 | Updated: 5 Jan 2022

BYU prevails in defensive slugfest with 54-39 win over South Florida

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Fousseyni Traore USF 2021

PROVO, Utah — With only three players scoring in double figures and a season low 54 points, BYU fought its way to a 54-39 win over the South Florida in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic Wednesday night.

“I’m super proud of our guys,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “This is a great defensive team that is really long, athletic and extremely disciplined. I was proud of how our guys managed the frustration South Florida caused on the defensive end, they kept moving the ball, kept fighting and got a good win.”

The Cougars were led by Fousseyni Traore, Gideon George and Alex Barcello who combined for 32 of BYU’s 54 points. BYU struggled from the floor shooting 36 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from behind the arc, and 12-of-16 from the charity stripe in the defensive slugfest.

USF shot 25.8 percent from the floor, 9.5 percent from three-point land, and 71.4 percent from the free-throw line. The Cougars held the Bulls to 39 points in the loss, their lowest scoring outing of the season.

George and Traore each had 11 points to lead BYU with Traore adding 9 rebounds and two assists to his stat line. Barcello tallied 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting, an assist and a steal in his 15th straight game scoring in double figures dating back to last season. Caleb Lohner had a career-high 14 rebounds and nine points. 

The Cougars will play in the semi-final of the Diamond Head Classic tomorrow evening against the winner of Vanderbilt and Hawaii.

First Half

Caleb Lohner broke the two-and-a-half-minute scoreless start for the Cougars with a steal and breakaway dunk.

South Florida took a 6-4 lead after three BYU turnovers and a better shooting start than their previous games.

The Cougars and Bulls traded baskets to square the game at eight before USF hit their first three of the game to go up 11-8 with 13:53 left in the first half.

At the under-12 minute timeout the Cougars had gone 3-for-12 from the field and had yet to make a three-pointer.

With 9:41 left, George hit BYU’s first three of the give the Cougars the lead, 13-11. USF hit a pull-up jumper from the left wing to tie it at 13 with 8:51 left in the first.

After giving up two straight scores, the Cougars found themselves down 18-15 before Barcello scored his first bucket of the game. Barcello hit two straight triples and a back-door reverse layup to regain the lead, 23-18. 

The Cougars ended the half on a 16-4 run to take a 31-22 lead into the half. BYU finished the first 20 minutes shooting 40.7 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from behind the arc and 75 percent from the stripe. They outrebounded the Bulls by 10, tallied seven assists, two blocks, a steal and an uncharacteristic seven turnovers in the first half.

Second Half

Trevin Knell hit a baseline jumper to give the Cougars a double-digit lead for the first time in the game just 1:22 into the second half.

After having the lead cut to eight, Knell hit a three to give the Cougars an 11-point lead. Following the Knell three, BYU went eight straight possessions without a bucket and gave up two scores to the Bulls who cut the lead to five with 11:12 left.

Traore broke the almost seven minute scoring drought with two free-throws followed by a tip-in put-back from Lohner to stretch the BYU lead to nine with 9:18 to play.

After another three minutes of scoreless basketball George scored his first points of the game on a right wing three. On the next Cougar possession Traore slipped a screen for a one hand hammer to give BYU its largest lead of the game.

With 3:58 left, George buried his third three of the game from the right corner to give the Cougars a 13-point lead. On the next possession, Te’Jon Lucas hit a one hand, step-through runner with the shot clock winding down to extend the lead to 15 with 1:57 left.

BYU held the Bulls scoreless over the last four minutes of the game to secure a 15-point victory to advance to the winner's bracket.