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Analysis: No. 19 BYU finds another way to win a Big 12 nailbiter, beating hard-closing UCF with 40 free throws

BYU’s head coach Mark Pope instructs his team during a timeout against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
BYU’s head coach Mark Pope instructs his team during a timeout against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Forget the fact that No. 19 BYU almost — almost — gave away another Big 12 basketball game with an epic collapse in the final few minutes of its 90-88 win over hard-closing UCF on Tuesday night at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars preferred to call it a monumental response to some absolutely ridiculous UCF shot-making in the final minutes.

Whatever the case, bottom line is that BYU invented another way to win a game, this time doing it from the free-throw line.

“That was a gritty, gritty win. That team threw us their best punch and we were able to respond. It is super fun to play with these guys and I feel like we showed our true colors. We kept responding, kept responding, no matter what frustration happened. I feel like we have learned to respond with some fight and urgency.” — BYU guard Trevin Knell.

Yes, the Cougars, who are 345th in the country among 350 Division I college basketball teams in free-throw attempts, went to the line a whopping 46 times, making 40 of them, to improve to 6-5 in Big 12 play, 18-6 overall.

Yes, it was the same team that was just 10 of 21 from the charity stripe three nights ago in that 72-66 win over Kansas State.

The 40 freebies tied a school single-game record on a night when it felt like there were three games in one, and the battle lasted two hours and 32 minutes — which also has to be a record for a non-overtime game.

“I should definitely be Coach of the Year, that I actually managed to get our guys from a 50% free-throw shooting team to a 95% (87% actually) in one night,” coach Mark Pope said, only half-joking.

“That’s who these guys are.”

They needed every one of them, too, as UCF (4-7, 13-10) scored 62 points in the second half, 17 in the final 71 seconds, to roar back into the contest in front of 15,590 crazed, nervous fans.

Down 80-69 with 1:30 left and 81-71 with less than a minute to go, the Knights scored on their last six possessions — making four 3s during that wicked shooting stretch — in a dazzling display of shooting rarely seen at the college level.

Shemarri Allen’s shot from the corner — his foot was on the line so it was ruled a 2 — with under a second left cut BYU’s lead to two. BYU threw away the inbounds pass — surprise, surprise — but UCF couldn’t get a shot off in time to win it and avoid the season sweep.

BYU beat UCF 63-58 in Orlando a month ago in a completely different game. Tuesday marked the most points UCF has given up in a game all season.

“If we played two halves like that (second half) we would win every game,” said UCF’s Jaylin Sellers, who finished with 17 points.

Darius Johnson led the Knights with 20 before fouling out.

BYU fans cheer as the UCF Knights and Cougars meet at the Marriott Center in Provo, Feb. 13, 2024.
BYU fans cheer as the UCF Knights and the BYU Cougars meet in college basketball action at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars center Aly Khalifa (50) shoots against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars center Aly Khalifa (50) shoots against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars forward Noah Waterman (0) and guard Jaxson Robinson (2) try to stop UCF Knights forward Marchelus Avery (13) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars forward Noah Waterman (0) and guard Jaxson Robinson (2) try to stop UCF Knights forward Marchelus Avery (13) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) tries to stop Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) tries to stop Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past a UCF Knight at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past a UCF Knight at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) fouls Brigham Young Cougars forward Atiki Ally Atiki (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) fouls Brigham Young Cougars forward Atiki Ally Atiki (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Richie Saunders (15) drives past UCF Knights forward Thierno Sylla (31) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Richie Saunders (15) drives past UCF Knights forward Thierno Sylla (31) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
BYU’s head coach Mark Pope instructs his team during a timeout against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
BYU’s head coach Mark Pope instructs his team during a timeout against the UCF Knights at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson (2) gets fouled by UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson (3) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson (2) gets fouled by UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson (3) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) looks to shoot against UCF at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) looks to shoot against UCF at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) drives past UCF Knights guard Shemarri Allen (2) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past UCF Knights guard DeMarr Langford Jr. (12) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Dallin Hall (30) drives past UCF Knights guard DeMarr Langford Jr. (12) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
BYU forward Noah Waterman drives past UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Noah Waterman (0) drives past UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson (3) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

In all, 46 fouls were called — 27 against the uber-aggressive Knights and 19 against BYU. Seventy-two free throws were attempted.

The Knights came up with 10 steals and turned 17 BYU turnovers into 27 points, but the aggressiveness came at a cost. BYU paraded to the free throw line.

No team has made more than 40 free throws in a single game this season in all of college basketball; Auburn and Northeastern have also made 40.

UCF coach Johnny Dawkins didn’t bemoan the big free-throw disparity — at least not publicly, when given the chance — but he chalked BYU’s turnovers, which led to countless UCF fast breaks and dunks, up to his team’s ballhawking abilities.

“That’s kind of who we are,” he said. “That’s the style of basketball we play. … Some of them we had to foul at the end.”

And when they did, BYU’s Jaxson Robinson was sensational.

He made eight straight free throws in the final 50 seconds, all while UCF was going crazy with incredible shots at its end of the floor, and in the face of the ROC.

Robinson was 12 of 13 from the stripe, while Noah Waterman was 9 of 10 and Trevin Knell was 10 of 13.

“Just knock them down (was Robinson’s thought process). I do it every day. Before I leave the gym, after practice, after the shootaround, whatever it is, so it is just repetition. That’s all it is,” Robinson said.

Robinson also made three 3-pointers, including one while being fouled from NBA range in the first half and what seemed like it would be the dagger from the corner with 2:12 left that gave BYU an 80-69 lead.

Dallin Hall, who had 10 points, five assists and five rebounds, found Robinson in the corner after driving to the basket.

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“I thought he was brilliant,” Pope said of Hall. “He hit that pull-up 3 when we were a little stuck and they had cut it from 17 to seven, give or take. Had a floater down the lane and a reverse layup that was special, too.”

Hall also found Robinson for a 3-pointer that beat the halftime buzzer and gave BYU a 39-26 lead at the break.

It was BYU’s ninth halftime lead in its 11 Big 12 games, but nothing comes easy for these guys in this league, and that remained the case Tuesday night.

With 17:18 remaining, Waterman’s two free throws gave BYU a 48-29 lead. Then BYU turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and missed an open 3-pointer.

Game on.

“That was a gritty, gritty win. Super proud of our guys. That team threw us their best punch and we were able to respond,” Knell said. “… It is super fun to play with these guys and I feel like we showed our true colors.

“We kept responding, kept responding, no matter what frustration happened. I feel like we have learned to respond with some fight and urgency.”

Because let’s face it — they have had a lot of opportunities in the Big 12.