Defense-less BYU can’t survive shootout in loss to Ole Miss at First Four

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)


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DAYTON, Ohio — The BYU men’s basketball team had been an offensive juggernaut all year, averaging 83.6 points per game — the second-most in the nation.

But the offense wasn’t the problem Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

It was the Cougars’ Achilles’ heel of defensive stops and a lack of rebounding that reared their heads in an ugly 94-90 loss to Mississippi in a First Four game.

“Offensive rebounds were a problem for us, but our guys continued to battle, and we got the lead again,” BYU coach Dave Rose told the media following the game. “I thought it would go right down to the wire, but we didn’t get the stops we needed.

“I feel for our guys because we played well enough to win, but just couldn’t finish it off.”

On the offensive end, BYU looked nearly unstoppable, especially after jumping out to an 8-0 lead early in the first half behind a pair of 3-pointers and a layup from Chase Fischer. Tyler Haws, BYU’s all-time leading scorer, finished with a game-high 33 points, but the Cougars let the game get away from them in the second half with little defensive production and inattention to the offensive glass.

The loss was only the second-ever under Rose when BYU scores more than 90 points.

Stefan Moody finished with 26 points and five assists for the Rebels, who scored 62 second-half points to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit and advance to face Xavier Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.

BYU center Corbin Kaufusi (44) is defended by Ole Miss guard Martavious Newby (1) during the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio Monday, March 17, 2015. BYU lost 94-90. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)
BYU center Corbin Kaufusi (44) is defended by Ole Miss guard Martavious Newby (1) during the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio Monday, March 17, 2015. BYU lost 94-90. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

“Congratulations to (Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy) and his team and (we) wish him the best of luck as they move forward,” Rose said. “I think this game will sting for quite a while. Our guys showed a lot of fight, and it’s pretty similar to three years ago — it was a tale of two halves.”

In BYU’s first First Four experience three years ago against Iona, the Cougars rallied from a 25-point halftime deficit to knock off the Gaels in a tournament-record second-half performance.

This time, BYU would’ve needed a comeback of its own after relinquishing the lead for the first time on Moody’s trey from the top of the key with just under eight minutes left in the game.

BYU fought back, and Haws’ 3-pointer with three seconds left brought BYU within a possession at 93-90, but late flurry was too late for the prolific senior guard from Alpine, Utah, and Ole Miss iced the game from the free-throw line.

“It hurts to end this way,” said Haws, who ends his BYU career with 2,720 points.

BYU’s offense has shown it can score with anyone in the nation; look no further than the Cougars’ recent win at then-No. 3 Gonzaga to end the regular season. The game likely secured BYU’s bid as an at-large tournament team, but the monster of defense reared its ugly head in the first game.

Kyle Collinsworth was scoreless in the first half, and he left the game with about five minutes remaining in the half with a knock to the knee.

BYU looked sure of itself early by taking a 17-point lead into the break behind Fischer’s assault from downtown. He finished with 23 points, including six 3-pointers, to finish behind only Haws in scoring for the Cougars. Skyler Halford added 11 points for the Cougars.

Collinsworth finished with eight points, seven rebounds and 10 assists — but knocked down his only shot from the field on a rim-rattling dunk with 11 minutes to play as the Cougars struggled to maintain an advantage.

Audacious offensive numbers and near triple-doubles weren’t BYU’s problem all season. The team from Provo struggled in getting stops on the other end. The Cougars were outrebounded 14-6 on the offensive glass and never could compete with the Rebels’ inside presence.

M.J. Rhett finished with 20 points and three blocked shots before fouling out for Ole Miss, and point guard Jarvis Summers scored 11 points to go along with 10 assists as he drove through the lane and to the rim in the second half.

BYU, which has advanced to the NCAA tournament eight times in 10 seasons of Rose’s head coaching tenure, is now 15-32 all-time in the Big Dance — including 10-19 in the opening game.

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