Cougs come out flat in early exit to Duquesne

BYU looked unprepared and unenthused as they lost their first-round game against Duquesne.

Richie Saunders contests a layup attempt by Duquesne
Richie Saunders contests a layup attempt by Duquesne / Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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In the Cougars' best shot to win a tournament game since 2012, they fell short against upset-minded Duquesne.

BYU's March Madness run met a premature demise on Thursday, as the Cougars fell to Duquesne 71-67. A lot can be said about the Cougars' effort in this game, but first of all, credit is due to Duquesne. They came out of the gates firing and set the tone early. BYU looked flat and sluggish to start the game, and the Dukes used that to their advantage. This game marks Duquesne's first tournament win since 1969, and from my point of view, they clearly wanted it more.

Duquesne's physical play was a constant throughout the game. The officials allowed physical play, and BYU was comparatively timid in matching the Dukes' physicality. On this game's board, Duquesne was the owner of the Water Works and Electric Company tiles--they had the monopoly on energy and they made the Cougars pay the price. Thunderous dunks and unlimited hustle on defense stole momentum from BYU on every attempt to trim down the lead.

Jaxon Robinson
Jaxson Robinson flips up a layup against Duquesne / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

The Cougars controlled possession of the ball like a toddler with a fist full of spaghetti. That is to say: very poorly. When they didn't cough up turnovers, they missed layups and jumpers. BYU has been a very bipolar team at times this year, and the bad BYU showed up today. The turnover count was 12, which doesn't seem horrible at a glance, but Duquesne was the beneficiary of many free points off those turnovers.

Many makeable shots just didn't fall, and that has been BYU's kryptonite all season. When they're cold, they're among the most mortal teams in college hoops. Saunders, Knell, and Waterman were all no-shows on the scoreboard, combining for 9 points between them. Aly Khalifa was especially unplayable, going 0-6 from the field and 0-4 from 3.

If BYU's offense wasn't so abysmal, their lackluster defense would be the story of this game. The commentators could be heard during the game pointing out BYU's lack of defensive effort, especially when the game was in reach. BYU fought back from being down 14 points, which is admirable, but every time the Cougars pulled within one possession, they immediately gave up a 5-0 run or worse, giving Duquesne more wind in their sails.

BYU was able to tie the game back up with just under two minutes remaining. The chaos of the game was finally seeming to swing in BYU's favor, and all they needed to do was contain the Dukes on defense. Unfortunately in BYU style, they were unable to capitalize on a golden opportunity, putting Duquesne's Clark on the line in back to back possessions, and were never able to even the game back up before the final buzzer sounded.

Spencer Johnson, Dae Dae Grant
Spencer Johnson hangs to shoot a layup over Dae Dae Grant / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

Jaxson Robinson and Spencer Johnson were the lone bright spots for the Cougars, as Robinson was on fire throughout the game, dropping 25 points to keep BYU in the game. Robinson seemed to be the only player capable of hitting the target from long range, and Johnson's 16 rebounds kept BYU from completely collapsing in this game. Yet, in the final 3 minutes of the game--reminiscent of BYU's mishandling of the Texas Tech quarterfinal--the ball never got into Robinson's hands. Robinson and Johnson were honored on senior night, and have played their final games as BYU Cougars. This is a tough way to say goodbye.

An early exit to a seemingly inferior opponent is a poor to end BYU basketball's otherwise encouraging season. The future of BYU hoops looks bright, but at this moment, Cougar nation is left in mourning. Take a moment to be sad; you have the right to be disappointed in how this season finished up. Don't let this moment cast a dark cloud over the positive memories of this season, though. BYU will be back next year, but now just enjoy the rest of March Madness--there's a lot of basketball to be played.

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