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PROVO — Like plenty of New Year's Eve patrons, BYU basketball hopes to start off 2023 with good luck.
Gideon George poured in 15 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, and Fousseyni Traore added 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists as BYU pulled away from visiting Portland 71-58 to keep its seven-game winning streak alive Saturday night in the Marriott Center.
Spencer Johnson added 9 points and three rebounds off the bench for BYU (12-5, 2-0 WCC).
Kristian Sjolund had a game-high 32 points and six rebounds to lead Portland, which shot just 38% from the field.
"I'm proud of the guys for fighting and staying the course, just keeping with the game plan," said George, who also had nine rebounds and three assists with two turnovers to pace a team that shot 64% in the second half. "(Sjolund) was going off all night, and Spencer shut him down as we had multiple bodies on him; Noah (Watterman), myself and Spence. I'm proud of the team overall."
BYU and Portland (8-9, 0-2 WCC) combined to make just two of their first 17 field goals, including an 0-for-8 start from 2-point range in the first seven minutes before Richie Saunders scored the first points from inside the arc over seven minutes in.
The Pilots made just four of their first 18 attempts from the field before Sjolund scored on three-straight possessions to cap a 9-0 run for an 18-17 lead with 5:26 left in the half. Portland used seven turnovers in a five-minute span to lead by as much as four with a 12-1 run in the waning moments of the half.
The Cougars shot just 33% from the field in the first half with 12 turnovers that Portland turned into 17 points. Dallin Hall's 3-pointer just before the horn was the sixth triple of the game for two teams that shot a combined 16-of-49 from the field in the first half.
BYU coach Mark Pope trusted his gut, to believe that eventually things would work out after a frenzied pace that began with George's 3-pointer 22 seconds into the game and didn't slow down — often to the Cougars' own detriment in front of an announced crowd of just over 13,700 fans in the first-ever New Year's Eve game in the Marriott Center.
"With this team, we got so much try," Pope said. "What I'm working so hard for all of us is to be patient with each other. So we talked at halftime of the things we did well."
BYU outrebounded the Pilots 22-13 in the first half and held the visitors to just two offensive rebounds, but struggled to score outside of Johnson's team-high 7 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench.
Sjolund had 17 points, including two 3-pointers, at the break to lead all scorers.
But Hall's bucket proved prophetic, or at least, confidence-inducing for the Cougars, who connected on 16-of-25 field goals in the second half with six 3-pointers while holding Portland to just 3-of-11 from deep and 43.5% overall.
"That 3-pointer was — sheesh," George said. "It was tough, putting the ball behind his leg and the setback, but he's been working on that all the time. You get a new guy, and he just has to stay patient; those shots are going to fall. He works so hard on those shots.
"I'm really glad it went in, and it was a tie game at the half."
BYU connected on its first four shots in the second half, which included a pair of 3-pointers by George and another by Waterman. That 12-3 run helped the Cougars shoot 64% in the second half, including a 7-2 spurt with 4:53 remaining that helped BYU pull away for good by holding the Pilots scoreless from the field for over four minutes.
BYU finished with 12 turnovers, forced 20 and outscored the Pilots 28-16 in the paint behind a 37-26 rebounding advantage.