BYU Men’s Basketball: USC edged BYU 82-76

Early in the second half at Imperial Arena, Jaxson Robinson hit a jumper to give BYU a 32-21 lead over USC Wednesday in the Bahamas.

The match remained close over the next few minutes.

Then Boogie Ellis of the Trojans got into a groove.

USC (4-1) went on a deciding 18-4 run midway through the second half and ended up defeating the Cougars 82-76 in a first round game of The Battle 4 Atlantis.

BYU (3-2) trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half with just over four minutes left. The Cougars rallied, cutting the deficit to single digits, but the Trojans held on for the win.

Ellis worked his way up with BYU, tying a career high with 27 points. He knocked down 7 of 9 shots from the floor, mostly a series of 2-point pull-ups and 13 of 17 from the free throw line.

“They are a good team. They are long, they are dexterous. I thought Boogie was absolutely amazing tonight,” said Cougar coach Mark Pope. “We simply couldn’t find an answer for him. Their length really bothered us. really annoyed with this young and new team.

In the final 20 minutes, USC got 62% to BYU’s 40%.

Robinson, who had a career-high 14 points, including 4-of-8 3-pointers, said his team didn’t have as much energy in the second half as they did in the first half.

“We have lost our defensive intensity,” he said. “In the first half, we did a great job of keeping those two guys (Ellis and Drew Peterson) down. In the second half we went out and we didn’t have the intensity we had in the first half and that hurt us a lot.”

Gideon George noticed the Cougars’ turnovers – 17 – and allowed the Trojans to tear up 10 offensive boards.

“Rebounds and turnovers really hurt us,” said George, who scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds. “We have to solve it as a group. We have to play a game with fewer turnovers if we want to win on a big stage.”

BYU’s Spencer Johnson also had a career-high 18 points. He was one of five Cougars to make at least two 3-pointers. Rudi Williams had 15 points to complete with four rebounds and six assists. He was 2 of 5 from 3-point territory.

As a team, BYU drilled 12 of 32 3-pointers while USC made just 2 of 10.

But from two points away, the Trojans were deadly. USC shot 53% overall from the floor for the game.

The Cougars struggled from the free throw line, making just 14-for-22. USC shot even worse from the charity stripe, but outpaced BYU from there going 18-for-30.

Not only did Ellis tear up the Cougars, but Peterson finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Reese Dixon-Waters added 13 points and Joshua Morgan had 11.

USC is one of the tallest teams in the nation, and its height and length irritated the Cougars at times. The Trojans outscored BYU in the paint 34-20.

“In the second half we lost focus on the glass. I think we were really effective in keeping them to two offensive rebounds in the first half,” Pope said. “I was really proud of that. In the second half, we collapsed and gave up eight offensive rebounds. He pulls off a really big offensive rebound, he just kills you.

BYU could not handle USC’s weapons.

“They are a complicated team because Drew is a high-level point guard. It’s such a problem,” he said. “There are things you don’t feel defensive because you believe it will tear you apart. He’s really good. At the end of the day, Boogie in isolation from ball screens was a problem for us. He has fueled exactly what we want to give away: we want to give away two long and challenged men. And Boogie is just like, ‘Yeah, give them all to me and I’ll make them all.’ He did. He shot almost 80% in that area.”

So far this season, the Cougars have been prone to turnover and this pattern continued on Wednesday.

“In the first half, we really had a turnover problem,” Pope said. “We’ve had 11 turnovers and so many of them are self-inflicted and that’s super frustrating. It’s just a part of us trying to figure things out. We’ll get better with that.

Forced into desperation mode late in the game, the Cougars utilized a press, which helped them cut the deficit and make the game competitive.

“My boys, they have a lot of fights. They are really beautiful children,” Pope said. “They are going to improve because they want to improve so much. They will become more comfortable with each other because they will mature. We are playing a lot of young kids. They have many struggles and many attempts.

Pope added that his players have been gripped by “worries, worries and frustrations” while playing, something they need to learn to overcome.

“I’m proud of our guys’ effort in the end, trying to hold on,” Pope said. “We are all disappointed with how we played tonight. We’ll play better tomorrow.”

The Cougars face the underdog of the game between #22 Tennessee and Butler at 4:30 PM MST on Thanksgiving Day in the Bahamas.

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