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Young Kwak, Associated Press, File

BYU defense keys first road win over Saint Mary's since 2014

By Sean Walker, | Updated - Jan. 14, 2021 at 11:54 p.m. | Posted - Jan. 14, 2021 at 10:55 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — BYU had no business being in the game Thursday night.

Fighting at Saint Mary's, consistently one of the two best teams in the West Coast Conference, and in a place where the Cougars haven't won since 2014, the Cougars opened up just 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Up to that point, BYU had just three offensive rebounds.

Yet with 4:05 left on the clock, BYU had a 1-point lead, 51-50, on the Gaels.

And that lead only got wider.

Gideon George hit a jumper to spark an 8-0 spurt, then limited Tommy Kuhse to 5-of-11 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range on defense, and BYU held Saint Mary's scoreless from the field during a 15-3 run over 10:07 in the second half en route to a 62-52 victory that clinched the Cougars' first road win over the Gaels since 2014.

Alex Barcello had a game-high 14 points to go aloing with two rebounds, two assists and two steals for the Cougars, who got 9 points and four rebounds from Matt Haarms. Brandon Averette added 9 points and a team-high three assists.

But when it came to that game-deciding run — a streak as long as 19-2 in the waning moments of the half — it came down to defense. And that defense came down to George, the first-year junior college transfer from Nigeria by way of New Mexico.

"To be honest, I'll give credit to Gideon for that," Averette told BYU Radio after the game. "We had trouble with ball screen coverages, and we put Gideon on (Kuhse) — and he handled it for us for the rest of the game.

"Honestly, it sparked our run."

Woods Cross product Trevin Knell supplied 7 points and three rebounds for BYU (10-3, 1-1 WCC) in his first career start, including the Cougars' only 3-pointer of the game.

Five days after a blowout loss to Gonzaga, BYU has still yet to give up consecutive losses under second-year head coach Mark Pope.

Knell, who previously signed with Cal before serving a two-year church mission prior to enrolling at BYU, was a key reason for bouncing back.

"I'm super proud of Trevin," said Pope of Knell, who played a team-high 32 minutes. "He's a physical seeking guy; he wants to get hit. Those two buckets he had down the lane in the second half were so huge.

"He also made some big-time defensive plays. I thought he was great. He's been knocking on the door for a long time, and his future is ahead of us. He certainly made a big difference for us; he was great."

Still, down for most of the game at a place BYU rarely wins and facing its first 0-2 start to conference play since the 2013-14 season, the Cougars needed a response.

They got it, in an unlikely way.

BYU shot just 1-of-10 from 3-point range, including 0-for-6 in the second half — and won by 10. None of those shot-making stats matter for a team that likes "own its shot," according to Pope.

The Cougars rallied with defense.

"We're a team that just figures it out," Averette said. "No matter what, we're going to figure it out.

"Our bigs came up big tonight, and they couldn't stop them."

When Quinn Clinton fouled out with a team-high 12 points and 1:06 remaining, it sent shivers down the Gaels' collective spine.

Averette made Randy Bennett shudder on the next play, giving BYU a 59-50 lead with 50 seconds remaining.

BYU's turnaround didn't come on the offensive end, though. It came on defense, handing the Gaels (9-4, 0-2 WCC) back-to-back losses to open conference play ahead of Saturday's trip to top-ranked Gonzaga.

After trailing Saint Mary's for most of the first 30 minutes of the game, BYU played lockdown defense over the final 10.

The Cougars outrebounded the Gaels 37-31, pulled down seven offensive rebounds in the final nine minutes, and pounded the paint 44-24.

"Gideon George made a huge difference. His length on Kuhse was a difference maker; he changed the game," Pope said.

"I was really proud of our guys with the way he managed ball screens down the stretch, and then on the glass. Rich Harward, Caleb Lohner, Gideon George; they just said, 'we're not going to handle this.'"

Kuhse finished with 12 points for the Gaels, but made just one bucket down the stretch. Dan Fotu added 9 points and five rebounds, but just 2 points in the second half.

George finished with 8 points in just 15 minutes for BYU, while also guarding Saint Mary's leading scorer.

BYU will look to sweep the Bay Area schools in conference play Saturday. Tipoff against San Francisco is scheduled for 6 p.m. MT on ESPN.

"This is just one out of two wins," Averette said. "We've got another one to take care of Saturday."

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