West Virginia students apparently pick an opposing player before every home game at venerable WVU Coliseum and boo him mercilessly throughout the contest whenever he touches the basketball.
Saturday’s pick when No. 22 BYU visited Morgantown, roundly recognized as one of the toughest places to play in the country, let alone the Big 12, was Cougars point guard Dallin Hall.
It was a mountain-sized mistake.
“I has kinda been that way all year. It is a ‘next man up’ mentality. That is what is fantastic about this team is we got guys one through 16 who can play the game of basketball. And they are ready and anxious for opportunities and so when things like this happen, guys step up.” — BYU guard Dallin Hall.
Hall, the 6-foot-5 sophomore, played like a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra to drown out the boos with his sweet, inspired performance, and the Cougars rolled to an impressive 86-73 victory to even their Big 12 record at 4-4 and their overall mark to 16-5.
“Dallin Hall was magical tonight,” BYU coach Mark Pope told the BYU Sports Radio Network. “I thought he was really, really extraordinary.”
Hall had 12 assists and committed just one turnover in 35 minutes against a WVU defense that thrives on ball pressure and turning other teams over.
He also had five rebounds, eight points and hit one of several daggers late, 3-pointers that essentially squashed WVU’s comeback plans.
Take that, people of the country roads.
BYU led by as many as 17 points in the second half, and it would have been 20 but Spencer Johnson (15 points, four rebounds) missed a wide open 3-pointer, a rarity from the senior marksman.
Behind Arizona transfer Kerr Kriisa’s 20 second-half points, West Virginia (3-6, 8-14) cut the deficit to five with 5:26 left, but could get no closer.
Actually, all the Cougars were outstanding, with the possible exception of senior forward Noah Waterman, who woke up Saturday morning feeling “extremely sick,” in Hall’s words, and didn’t score in 16 minutes of action.
Pope said Waterman gutted it out because he knew the Cougars were shorthanded inside. Big man Aly Khalifa didn’t make the trip due to illness and injury and is doubtful for Tuesday’s contest at No. 23 Oklahoma, a 74-63 loser at UCF on Saturday afternoon.
Fellow big man Fouss Traore got his first start since late November vs. North Carolina State in Las Vegas and delivered perhaps his finest game as a Cougar.
The man from Mali, West Africa, scored a season-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting and pretty much dominated WVU’s Jesse Edwards (16 points) and anyone else the Mountaineers threw at him inside.
Traore was also 4 of 4 from the free-throw line and grabbed nine rebounds. His bucket with 2:21 left after Kriisa nailed a 3 to pull WVU to 79-70 was as clutch as they come.
“That dude went crazy tonight,” Hall said of Traore, his best friend on the team. “… It has kinda been that way all year. It is a ‘next man up’ mentality.
“That is what is fantastic about this team, is we got guys one through 16 who can play the game of basketball and they are ready and anxious for opportunities, and so when things like this happen, guys step up.”
In short, BYU proved once again that it belongs in this big-boy league, recording a win at a place where Kansas, Texas and Cincinnati all failed to break through.
Don’t look now, but BYU has won four of its last six and moved into seventh place in the best basketball conference in the country.
This team continues to silence the naysayers, even if it doesn’t exactly pass the eye test.
For sure, Hall and company silenced the crowd of 11,753, especially down the stretch when a lot of lesser teams would have faltered.
The Cougars learned from their mistakes at Baylor and Texas Tech when they blew decent second-half leads and lost.
They continue to improve some of their weaknesses, such as a propensity for turnovers and defensive rebounding.
Every game our student section just picks someone from the other team to boo. It’s nothing personal 🤷♂️
— WVUniforms (@WVUniforms304) February 3, 2024
Consider that West Virginia had a plus-10 advantage in second-chance points at one point, but BYU turned that stat around and finished with a 19-17 edge in that category.
The Cougars were 5 off 9 from 3-point range in the final six minutes, 13 of 36 for the game.
Four of those 3-pointers came after BYU got offensive rebounds. It started when Richie Saunders — who had 17 points off the bench and was terrific again, especially with Waterman under the weather — banked in a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with about six minutes remaining.
Jaxson Robinson added a pair of treys in the final five minutes, while the aforementioned dagger from Hall came after an offensive rebound as well.
Trevin Knell got in on the action, making a 3-pointer with 5:17 left while being fouled, the shot coming after RaeQuan Battle’s free throws cut BYU’s lead to 70-65.
In WVU’s postgame news conference, Battle said BYU has “Curry-level 3-point shooters,” which is probably a bit of an exaggeration regarding Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, but at least on this night the high praise was well-taken.
“It felt good,” Hall said of his step-back 3, the same shot that put the finishing touches on BYU’s win over San Diego State in November. “I love it, man. It is like Steph Curry out there — night night.”
Does BYU belong?
Three of its four Big 12 wins have been by at least 12 points, and the fourth came at UCF, which owns wins over Kansas and Oklahoma in Orlando.
“It was a great effort by our guys,” Pope said. “Our guys had to overcome a bunch of huge challenges.”