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Noah Hartsock sees good times ahead for BYU

Players on the BYU bench erupt in second half of the BYU-Iona game First Four tilt of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. BYU defeated Iona, 78-72, after being down by 25 points at one time.
Players on the BYU bench erupt in second half of the BYU-Iona game First Four tilt of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. BYU defeated Iona, 78-72, after being down by 25 points at one time. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Been there. Done that.

As BYU mounted that tremendous comeback Saturday to beat TCU, former Cougars star Noah Hartsock watched from his Las Vegas home and enjoyed the moment. He knows all about overcoming a huge halftime deficit — only his was bigger than the Horned Frogs’ 17-point lead, and it was played on a much grander stage.

“The ball came to me, I caught it, and the shot went up. We went ahead by one (71-70) and the rest is history.”

BYU's Noah Hartsock on his game-winner against Iona in the 2012 NCAA Tournament

Iona stunned BYU in the first 20 minutes of the 2012 First Four in Dayton, Ohio. The Gaels blistered the nets to lead 49-24 in the first half.

“They hit everything. We had some good looks, but nothing was falling,” Hartsock told the “Y’s Guys” podcast this week. “Coach (Dave) Rose said, ‘Guys, little by little. Let’s chip away. Let’s go on a 6-2 run and build on that.”

With nothing but everything to lose, Hartsock and teammates Brandon Davies, Matt Carlino, Charles Abouo, Brock Zylstra and the others went out to redeem themselves. In this case, redemption started with defense.

BYU held the Gaels scoreless from the 17:20 mark to 8:04, while scoring 17 points of their own. At some point during the scoring spree, Hartsock blew out his shoe.

“I didn’t realize what had happened. I just noticed my foot was sliding a lot,” Hartsock said. “During a timeout, I looked down and saw that I had blew out half my shoe.”

Without a backup pair, and with teammate Nate Austin’s foot size too big to borrow, Hartsock taped his shoe back together and returned to the game.

With 2:24 to play, the Cougars completed the comeback with a Hartsock 3-pointer.

“The ball came to me, I caught it, and the shot went up,” he said. “We went ahead by one (71-70) and the rest is history.”

Hartsock scored 17 of his game-high 23 points during the second half and carried BYU to a 78-72 victory. The Cougars didn’t know they made history until after the postgame celebration.

Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies
BYU forward Noah Hartsock (34) celebrates with forward Brandon Davies in the closing seconds of BYU's 78-72 win over Iona in an NCAA Tournament First Four game, Tuesday, March 13, 2012, in Dayton, Ohio. | Skip Peterson, Associated Press

“Jim Nantz called the game for CBS,” Hartsock said. “He was standing outside the locker room and said, ‘I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history that you guys just pulled off.’”

BYU, a No. 14 seed, advanced to face No. 3 seed Marquette the following Thursday in the first round in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Golden Eagles ended their season.

Replacing Jimmer

Timing is everything and for Hartsock; he was able to play alongside Jimmer Fredette during BYU’s Sweet Sixteen run amid a national wave of “Jimmermania.” But he also had the challenge of replacing Fredette the following season.

“We were locker buddies right next to each other. Nothing ever changed with him when it came to how he played or how he acted. He was always the same,” Hartsock said. “I remember the TCU game at TCU. We probably had 80% of the fans cheering for us. The police had to escort us out of the arena because of the 2,000 people waiting for autographs. It was a wild time.”

Hartsock’s last game with Jimmer was an overtime loss to Florida in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen. His first game without him the following season was a loss at Utah State — hardly the start he was hoping for. Hartsock and the Cougars eventually found their footing and he averaged 16.8 points and five rebounds during BYU’s 26-9 season.

“I just tried not to miss shots,” Hartsock said. “Terry Nashif was our offensive coach that year. I remember times when he would call plays for me, and I wouldn’t shoot. He’d call timeout and say, ‘Noah, the play works a lot better when you shoot the ball. So just shoot it.’ I was so used to setting a screen and thinking, ‘Where’s Jimmer at?’ It was an adjustment.”

The Cougars earned quality wins against Oregon, Gonzaga, Utah and Virginia Tech. BYU also reached the NCAA Tournament for a sixth-consecutive year.

“It is one of those unbelievable experiences,” Hartsock said about playing in the Big Dance. “As a kid, I watched this tournament every year. When you get there it’s almost like a whole different atmosphere, a different season. You get goose bumps thinking, ‘I’m a part of this,’ especially when you win and advance.”

Choosing BYU

Hartsock played in 134 games at BYU, including 98 starts — not bad for a kid out of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, who was planning to play for rival Utah.

“I didn’t expect to go to BYU,” he said. “I always thought I was going to Utah, but they pulled their scholarship away from me. That was their mistake.”

A stroll across the Provo campus turned into a game-changer.

“BYU was my least-favorite visit of all the recruiting visits. The other places were more fun,” Hartsock said. “But when I was walking on campus, I had a strong impression, ‘Hey, you need to go to BYU.’ It really changed my life. Being in a place where I was around really good leaders and teammates and a great community where I can learn, it propelled me in life.”

Hartsock met his eventual wife Kendalyn in the library. He and the former BYU volleyball star have five children.

First timers

Hartsock shares more with the current Cougars than a dramatic comeback. His team was the first BYU squad to compete in the West Coast Conference. The Cougars’ initial WCC tournament ended with a 77-58 defeat to Gonzaga. BYU never won a WCC title.

This year’s roster (21-8, 9-7) is the first to compete in the Big 12, with their first Big 12 tournament next week in Kansas City.

“It’s gonna be new and exciting for them,” Hartsock said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big distraction because they have been traveling to new places all year, but it will definitely be a different environment.”

Hartsock knows what it’s like to replace a legend, compete in a new conference, rally from a major deficit, and win in the NCAA Tournament. He also knows what it will take for this group to find postseason success.

“I think they have to shoot 35% or better from the 3-point line to advance and make some noise in the tournament. It’s their game. That’s their bread and butter,” he said. “If they have an off-shooting night, it comes down to defense and transition. It will be about getting stops, rebounding, getting into the lane and finishing at the rim.”

Advice from an expert. Hartsock has been there and done that.

BYU coach Mark Pope calls out a play during a game against Kansas State, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Manhattan, Kan.
BYU head coach Mark Pope calls out a play during game against Kansas State, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Manhattan, Kan. | Colin E. Braley, Associated Press