PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – When Alex Barcello decided to return to BYU for one final year, the Cougars were counting on him to win.
This is exactly what Barcello did in the first game of the season.
Barcello scored 24 points, while the BYU defense limited Cleveland State to just 36 percent on shots from the field in a 69-59 season opener over the Vikings at the Marriott Center on Tuesday night.
Barcello was 5 for 6 from the field and made all of his 13 free throws for the Cougars.
âCleveland State is a champion team,â said BYU head coach Mark Pope. âThat’s why we got them. They won their league tournament last year, plus got all the players back and added two big shooters to their roster. They are a super disruptive team and so for all these reasons it was a huge win for us. Alex Barcello, he’s just a star. I mean he’s one of six All-Americans back across the country, and he’s shown us time and time again he’s got moxia on the floor.
Spencer Johnson was the only other BYU player to double the numbers with 13 points.
BYU struggled from the 3-point range, making just 5 of 19 shots. But the Cougars made 22 of 27 free throws to help them move away late in the game.
The Cougars led 34-27 at halftime, but the Vikings rallied to take a 46-44 lead as Torrey Patton led the way with 14 points.
But Barcello and Johnson made big buckets down the home stretch as the Cougars held on for the win.
“I’m really grateful to have teammates who believe in me as a player, and I believe in them on the moon and back,” said Barcello. âWe continue to build our chemistry as a team and we’re not perfect as you’ve seen it tonight, but we keep building that confidence and I’ve felt it from these guys tonight. We have guys who are made for those big times and it’s fun playing with guys who don’t hesitate when it’s time to play.
BYU capitalized on 24 Cleveland State fouls shooting 82 percent from the free throw line.
Johnson provided a valuable spark on the bench for the Cougars throughout the night. He scored 3 points from the right corner on an assist from Barcello, giving the Cougars, 58-52 a six-point lead with less than six minutes to go.
Moments later, Johnson came out on defense with a crucial block that left the Vikings with empty possession late in the game.
Johnson’s block was one of seven of the night for the Cougars, three of which came from Traore. Caleb Lohner and Trevin Knell added seven and eight points respectively.
âIt’s huge,â Johnson said of the win. âWe have a lot of new guys who have come in and are learning our system and how we do things. I think we responded beautifully. We struggled with the frustration and hung on and stayed with each other and that’s what I was super happy about.
While the BYU defense only forced six turnovers from Cleveland State, the Cougars limited the Vikings to 36 percent of shots from the field; well below their 45 percent from a season ago.
Caleb Lohner had 7 points and 9 rebounds, a high for the team, while Trevin Knell scored 8 points off the bench. For the night, BYU topped the Vikings 41-31.
The Cougars next host San Diego State Friday night at 7:00 p.m.