Analysis: Pillow-soft defense dooms No. 19 BYU to humbling loss at Big 12-worst Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State guard Quion Williams (5) and guard Jamyron Keller (14) celebrate on the court in the second half of the NCAA college basketball game against BYU, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala)

Despite having a NET ranking of No. 9 and a rating of No. 16, surprising BYU was nowhere to be found when the NCAA Tournament selection committee released its early top 16 seeds for the Big Dance on Saturday morning.

Then the No. 19 Cougars went out and proved that the committee wasn’t that far off base in regards to them, turning in their worst performance of the season to date in a humbling 93-83 upset loss Saturday afternoon to the Big 12’s last-place team, Oklahoma State.

“First, a ton of credit to Oklahoma State. They played unbelievable basketball tonight. They were aggressive when they needed to be aggressive and patient when they needed to be patient and shot the ball extraordinarily well. They earned free throws like they normally do. We just didn’t have answers for it today.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope.

At least more of the 7,360 fans at Iba-Gallagher Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma, went home happy. The Cougars certainly didn’t.

“Very, very disappointed locker room for us,” BYU coach Mark Pope said.

Nobody really expected BYU to get a top four seed in the mock reveal, but rest assured the Cougars (6-6, 18-7) didn’t play like they were all that angry about it.

Their defense was non-existent, their shot selection not up to their usual standards and their four early turnovers that led to too many easy OSU buckets in the beginning when the young Cowboys were searching for confidence were especially maddening.

The result was BYU’s first Quad 3 loss — it could move to a Quad 2 loss, depending how OSU fares the next few weeks — and a damaging blow to the Cougars’ hopes of staying on the No. 5 seed line in the tournament.

This one could sting for a long, long time.

Oklahoma State (3-9, 11-14) was No. 136 in the NET going into the first Big 12 meeting between the foes — the rematch is March 9 in Provo — but had won two straight at home, hadn’t played since last Saturday and was said to be “dangerous” by Pope earlier this week.

Boy, he wasn’t kidding.

Oklahoma State led wire-to-wire, took a 49-34 halftime lead, saw BYU close to within nine several times in the latter half of the second half and then held on to beat a ranked team for the first time this season.

Speaking of firsts, it was the first time all season that BYU has not had a lead in a game. It was that nightmarish for the Cougars, who suddenly have forgotten how to play defense.

Having given up 62 points in the second half in the 90-88 win over UCF on Tuesday, BYU was almost as generous to the homestanding Cowboys, who started two true freshmen.

That’s 111 points given up in 40 minutes of basketball before the halftime buzzer mercifully rang Saturday.

That is way, way too many points to what are statistically the two worst offenses in the Big 12. What’s going to happen next week when high-scoring Baylor visits the Marriott Center?

“It is a defensive issue for us right now,” Pope understated in his postgame chat with Greg Wrubell and the BYU Sports Radio Network.

Ya think?

Oklahoma State shot a season-high 60% from the field. A team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot — much like BYU — lived by it Saturday, thanks to some pillow-soft perimeter defense from the visitors.

Oklahoma State was 11 of 22 from deep, while BYU was a frosty 8 of 35 (23%), but only after missing 13 of its first 14 3-point attempts.

“First, a ton of credit to Oklahoma State. They played unbelievable basketball tonight. They were aggressive when they needed to be aggressive and patient when they needed to be patient and shot the ball extraordinarily well,” Pope said.

“They earned free throws like they normally do. We just didn’t have answers for it today.”

Like BYU enjoyed Tuesday, OSU had a 29-15 edge at the free-throw line, the Pokes making 20 and the Cougars 13. A lot of those freebies came when BYU was fouling to stop the clock in the final three minutes.

“They scored 27 points in the first nine minutes of the game and I think we had two stops the entire time, so we are going to have to find a way to have a bigger impact on the defensive end of the floor to start these games,” Pope said.

“But a lot of credit goes to Oklahoma State for playing just sensational basketball. It was pretty special.”

So much for BYU being a good first-half team and one that struggles down the stretch. The Cougars didn’t even give themselves much of a chance to blow a big second half lead, thanks to that abysmal defensive effort in the first half.

Oklahoma State was 19 of 31 from the field (57%) and an incredible 8 of 14 (60%) from 3-point range in the first half.

Pope called UCF’s big half the other night, and especially its shooting in the final minute, an “anomaly” that the Knights would have big trouble repeating.

Oklahoma State almost did in the first half, as the Cougars turned in arguably their worst first half of basketball since the Utah game in December.

For starters, they couldn’t stop OSU’s starters. All five players who started for the Cowboys reached double figures, led by the two freshmen: Jamyron Keller and Brandon Garrison.

Making his first career start, Keller scored a career-high 22 points on 8 for 8 shooting from the field, a dazzling display that included a 4 of 4 effort from the 3-point line.

Garrison had 21 points on 7 of 8 shooting.

That’s right, the Cougars were cooked by two red-hot freshmen. Garrison’s contribution was somewhat expected. Keller’s was a surprise, considering that he was averaging 5.1 points per game and was 1 of 15 3-point attempts since December.

“That is a credit to him,” Pope said. “He got thrust into the starting lineup and he took advantage of it in a spectacular way.”

Regarding BYU’s defense, Pope suggested it needs to get more “edgy” and “pay a little more attention to personnel scout.”


Offensively, the Cougars were OK — after a cold start to both halves. They were 2 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half, when the game was essentially lost.

The first few minutes of the second half were a microcosm on the day: The Cougars missed three shots — two from point-blank range and a 3-pointer — on their first possession, then gave up a 3-point play to OSU’s Quion Williams (15 points) on the other end.

The next two times they touched the ball, the Cougars missed wide-open 3-pointers (Trevin Knell and Spencer Johnson) and the rout was on.

Fouss Traore led BYU with 17 points off the bench, on 7 of 10 shooting; Knell added 16 and Jaxson Robinson chipped in 14.

“We weren’t able to exploit anything to the rim tonight,” Pope said. “We missed a couple easy layups to the rim, which happens sometimes.

“We had a really tough time getting downhill. That’s a real credit to Garrison. He is just an elite level big inside.”