COUGAR TRACKS

Three Observations From BYU’s Season Opening Win Over Cleveland State

Nov 10, 2021, 12:10 AM
BYU Basketball - Fousseyni Traore...
BYU Basketball forward/center Fousseyni Traore after the Cougars win over Cleveland State. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball opens up the 2021-22 season with a 69-59 victory over Cleveland State. It was a surreal scene to be back in the Marriott Center with a roaring BYU crowd. It’s a common thing to say, but it felt normal to see.

What also felt normal for the Cougar fans in attendance was seeing BYU get a win at the Marriott Center. Since Mark Pope took over as head coach at BYU, the Cougars are now 26-3 in games played at the Marriott Center.

Alex Barcello shined in a tough, ugly win

Cleveland State didn’t draw any sex appeal for BYU fans when they glanced at the non-conference schedule. I have a feeling the Vikings are going to end up being a good win for BYU on their resume. Cleveland State is the preseason favorite to win the Horizon League. They returned 14 players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad and they added transfers Broc Finstuen from Pacific and Nathanael Jack from Florida State.

After the win, Mark Pope called the Vikings a “Championship team” and later added “they’re terrifying.” It was a terrifying game in stretches for BYU. Also terrifying for a viewer perspective seeing 41 fouls called. But BYU always had an answer when Cleveland State would tie it up. At the under-12 media timeout, BYU and Cleveland State were tied at 44 each. BYU came out of the halftime locker room with a lackluster performance, then Alex Barcello go them going offensively by knocking down the Cougars first three of the second half.

From there, Cleveland State got it back down to a two-point deficit with 3:17 remaining, but then Alex Barcello came up with a clutch bucket on a triple screen by Caleb Lohner to set up Barcello to head downhill. Then Barcello knocked down another bucket on the following possession to finally give BYU a little bit of a cushion from the Vikings.

Turnovers were a big problem

If BYU eliminated the turnovers, they win by 15-20 minutes on Tuesday. But 14 turnovers will keep an underdog alive. The Vikings scored 14 points off of BYU’s turnovers.

Cleveland State looked to be disruptive from the beginning of the game with some full court press looks. It rattled BYU as the Cougars recorded nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes. That number dropped to five in the second half.

But with BYU taking on an NBA style of offense that utilizes its bigs to handle decisions according to Mark Pope, and with Richard Harward out of the lineup due to cardiovascular issues, BYU’s young frontcourt was struggling a little bit with CSU’s defensive attack.

It’s a good learning lesson for BYU to face a team that brought some pressure on opening night. Typically teams open up the season with a gimmie win. BYU faced adversity and was still able to come away with a victory.

Fousseyni Traore is going to be a star player for BYU basketball

He’s a true freshman, but the potential is endless for Fousseyni Traore at BYU. In his first collegiate game, Traore scored five points, pulled down eight rebounds, and recorded three blocks. He was third on the team in minutes with 24 in the win with a plus-nine rating, third best on the night.

Traore showed he isn’t fazed by the big stage or feels any pressure in the setting. He has a natural feel around the basket that’s Yoeli Childs or Keena Young-like while also emerging as one of BYU’s top rim protector from the get go. His personality and play on the floor is already garnering fan favorite status at BYU.

Traore’s three blocks shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you meet the Mission Impossible movie fanatic and shake his hand, you’ll see hands that can contend with BYU great Jeff Chatman. Traore has the wingspan, the hand size, and height along with the work ethic that has put him in a spot to be an instant impact for BYU from the get-go.

BYU basketball will return to action on Friday when they host the San Diego State Aztecs at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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