PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – When Alex Barcello decided to come back to BYU for one final year, the Cougars were counting on him to come through in the clutch.
In the first game of the season, Barcello did just that.
Barcello scored 24 points, while the BYU defense held Cleveland State to just 36 percent shooting from the field in a season-opening 69-59 victory over the Vikings at the Marriott Center Tuesday night.
Barcello was 5 for 6 from the field and made all 13 of his free throws for the Cougars.
“Cleveland State is a championship team,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “That’s why we got them. They won their league tournament last year, plus got every single player back and added two big time shooters to their roster. They are a super disruptive team and so for all those reasons it was a huge win for us. Alex Barcello, he’s just a star. I mean he’s one of six returning All-Americans in he entire country, and he’s shown us over and over again that he’s got some moxie out there on the floor.”
Spencer Johnson was the only other BYU player in double figures with 13 points.
BYU struggled from 3-point range, making just 5 of 19 shots. But the Cougars made 22 of 27 free throws to help them pull away late in the game.
The Cougars led 34-27 at the half, but the Vikings rallied to take a 46-44 lead as Torrey Patton led the way with 14 points.
But Barcello and Johnson made some big buckets down the stretch as the Cougars held on for the victory.
“I feel really thankful to have teammates who believe in me as a player, and I believe in them to the moon and back,” Barcello said. “We’re continuing to build our chemistry as a team and we’re not perfect as you saw tonight, but we are continuing to build that trust and I felt that from these guys tonight. We’ve got guys that are built for these big moments and it’s fun to play with guys that don’t shy away when it’s time to make a play.”
BYU capitalized on 24 Cleveland State fouls by shooting 82 percent from the free-throw line.
Johnson provided a valuable spark off the bench for the Cougars throughout the night. He hit a 3-pointer from the right corner off a Barcello assist put the Cougars up six, 58-52, with less than six minutes remaining.
Moments later, Johnson came up big on defense with a crucial block that left the Vikings with an empty possession late in the game.
Johnson’s block was one of seven on the night for the Cougars, three of which came from Traore. Caleb Lohner and Trevin Knell added seven and eight points respectively.
“It’s huge,” Johnson said about the victory. “We have a lot of new guys that have come in and are learning our system and learning how we do things. I think we responded beautifully. We fought through frustration and we hung in there and stayed with each other and that’s what I was super happy about.”
While the BYU defense forced only six Cleveland State turnovers, the Cougars limited the Vikings to 36 percent shooting from the field; well under their 45 percent from a season ago.
Caleb Lohner had 7 points and a team-high 9 rebounds, while Trevin Knell chipped in with 8 points off the bench. For the night, BYU outrebounded the Vikings 41-31.
The Cougars next host San Diego State Friday night at 7:00 p.m.