SALT LAKE CITY — It was a game BYU needed to win, but Saint Mary’s couldn’t afford to lose.
With the Cougars’ leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, the sense of urgency multiplied for the Gaels — and it almost wasn’t enough.
Jordan Ford scored 24 points with four 3-pointers, and Malik Fitts added 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals to help Saint Mary’s rebound from a shocking overtime loss to hold off BYU 87-84 late Thursday night at UCU Pavilion in Moraga, California.
Dan Fotu had a season-high 16 points, three rebounds and two steals for the Gaels, who led for all but 2:11 minutes of the game against a BYU team playing without Yoeli Childs.
Tanner Krebs added 10 points and eight rebounds for Saint Mary’s (15-3, 2-1 WCC).
Childs will likely miss at least a week with a dislocated finger suffered Tuesday in practice. In his absence, Jake Toolson stepped up for the Cougars with 24 points, four rebounds and two assists, including a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in regulation to pull BYU within 3 points at 76-73.
“I thought it was a good team fight,” BYU’s Zac Seljaas told BYU Radio after a 7-point, five-rebound night. “We went out there, battled frustration, but came together as a team and kept fighting. When things weren’t going our way, we came together as a team.
“It didn’t come out the way we wanted ... but we fought through it.”
TJ Haws poured in a season-high 29 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals for BYU (12-5, 1-1 WCC), including a jumper after Toolson, Alex Barcello and Connor Harding forced a turnover from a full-court press on the next possession, which cut the deficit to 1.
But the senior guard from Alpine saved his best moment for the Cougars’ final offensive possession of regulation when he cut inside for his third dunk of the year to tie the game with six seconds left, 77-77. Dalton Nixon’s block on the other end secured the extra session.
BYU shot 60% from the field in the second half, and the Cougars mounted a comeback sparked by their two 20-point scorers and a committed effort on the defensive end, nearly forcing the upset without their 6-foot-7, double-double power forward.
Saint Mary’s took a 3-point edge at halftime on Ford’s buzzer-beating triple, but the Cougars never trailed by more than 7 points in the second half. They did so by holding the Gaels to 4-of-11 from the 3-point line after the break while equalizing with a 7-of-10 mark from behind the arc.
Toolson gave BYU its first lead, 79-77, since the middle of the first half with a jumper 59 seconds into overtime. But the advantage wouldn’t last.
Saint Mary’s held BYU scoreless for the next two minutes to regain the lead, but Haws evened it up on a jumper with 1:32 on the clock to tie the game, 81-81 before eventually falling by 1.
Haws was heroic. Ford, though, was spectacular and helped hand BYU its third straight loss in overtime.
“I’m really proud of our guys. They’re fighting and working and getting better — and trying to digest everything we asked them to do,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “They came out here and battled courageously and didn’t go away.
“But I’ve got to get better. My staff has got to be better. We shouldn’t lose this game.”
Kolby Lee had 9 points and six rebounds while starting in relief of Childs, but was saddled with foul trouble for the final 10 minutes.
The Gaels outrebounded the visiting Cougars 38-32, including a 27-22 margin on the defensive glass.
"Our most important job is rehabilitating our spirit and heart and competitiveness and fight, managing the frustration that comes with a night like tonight," Pope said. "That is the most important thing we will do tomorrow and Saturday. It’s what championship teams do."