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Takeaways From BYU’s Upset NCAA Loss To Duquesne

Mar 21, 2024, 3:37 PM

BYU Basketball, NCAA Tournament, Duquesne...

OMAHA, NEBRASKA - MARCH 21: Fousseyni Traore #45 of the Brigham Young Cougars walks off the court after being defeated by the Duquesne Dukes during the second half in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CHI Health Center on March 21, 2024 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

OMAHA, Neb. – Another heartbreak for BYU basketball in March Madness.

The No. 6 seed BYU Cougars lost to No. 11 Duquesne in the first round of the East Region in the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

BYU’s season ends with a 23-11 record.

Here are some takeaways from the defeat.

How was BYU surprised by Duquesne’s physicality?

When the matchup was announced on Selection Sunday, the instant talking point on the Duquesne Dukes was their physicality on defense.

Duquesne entered the game as a Top-30 defense in Ken Pom adjusted efficiency metrics. After Thursday, they looked like a group that stole a page from their football neighbors in Pittsburgh, the Steelers. Duquesne put on their best “Steel Curtain” physicality on BYU.

BYU appeared shocked by the Dukes’ physicality when the ball was tipped.

How did that happen?

In a win-or-go-home setting, you have to bring the intensity and physicality. BYU did not.

Cougar forward Noah Waterman tried to ignite a spark at the beginning of the second half by contending for a rebound on the deck with Duquesne’s Fousseyni Trame. But then Trame tossed an elbow, making the message clear the Dukes would win the physicality battle.

“They played themselves, and they were really, really physical, and kind of punched us in the mouth early,” said Mark Pope.

A slow start sunk BYU again

BYU started the game down 7-0 before they could blink. It was another chapter of BYU not only starting slow in the NCAA Tournament but in this season.

The same issues that happened in the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech reared its ugly face against Duquesne.

There was debate of whether BYU should change up its starting lineup coming into the game.

Should Jaxson Robinson have been inserted into the starting five?

BYU head coach Mark Pope said he wouldn’t “reinvent the wheel” entering the matchup with the Dukes.

But the slow starts were detrimental to BYU in many games, especially the final two, which brought BYU’s season to an abrupt close.

“I’m not really sure what the answer is to that,” said BYU guard Jaxson Robinson on the slow starts. “I think it’s something that we as a team, not just the coaches, but the players, have, like, reiterated over the season, trying to get better at it. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t start the game how we wanted to. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Jaxson Robinson was excellent on the March Madness stage

BYU reserve guard Jaxson Robinson finished with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field.

Robinson was the star BYU needed in a postseason game. But his star didn’t shine bright until after BYU was facing a deficit.

What’s surprising is that Robinson didn’t get a shot off in the final five minutes of action.

“Just playing within the offense, taking whatever the defense gives me,” Robinson said on why he didn’t attempt a shot in the final five minutes. “My teammates were finding me open shots. Dallin [Hall] did a great job of just being a facilitator. He’s been there all season for us.”

You have to think that the performance from Robinson in March Madness elevated his potential NBA draft stock. He will have a decision coming up this offseason.

After the game, he hinted that he wants to return to March Madness next season. But there’s a long offseason ahead.

Bounces went Duquesne’s way

There were back-to-back possessions late in the second half when BYU’s Fousseyni Traore missed a field goal attempt in the paint that was half-way down and rimmed out.

On Duquesne’s next possession, Jimmy Clark hit a shot that bounced off the front of the rim, then had another bounce on the rim and rolled in.

It was a highlight of the day that was for BYU against the Dukes.

Whenever BYU appeared to be pulling the momentum in their favor, Duquesne had an answer.

One of Duquesne’s underrated players was forward Jakub Necas. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Many of Necas’ buckets were in spots that killed BYU runs.

BYU basketball made costly mistakes down the stretch

Stepping out of the under-four media timeout, BYU forward Richie Saunders had a bad pass that was picked off by “The Steeler” Jimmy Clark. Clark then took it all the way for a fast-break slam dunk.

That dunk took away an opportunity for BYU to either tie the game or pull ahead. They were down 58-56 in that spot.

Then Clark made BYU within the final minute of regulation, coming off with a held ball on a missed free throw. BYU made a disastrous mistake not boxing out the free-throw shooter.

Those little mistakes will backfire in the NCAA Tournament, where everyone is a good team.

March Madness brings out the worst in BYU

BYU basketball had a memorable inaugural Big 12 Conference season. The Cougars soared to a fifth-place finish in America’s toughest conference.

That was a highlight worth celebrating as it gave them an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Then Selection Sunday rolled out and BYU drew Duquesne. On paper, it looked to be a favorable matchup. BYU was a sizable favorite over the Dukes. Yet, the same problems that always happen to BYU in March showed up again.

Far too often, the magnitude of March seems to impact this BYU team.

“I don’t think so,” said BYU coach Mark Pope on if the stage was too big for his team. “You know, I mean, you think about the environments these guys have played in throughout the year, and it’s a lot of credit to Duquesne. …

“And, you know, our guys battled back and responded and it turned into a terrific, you know, NCAA Tournament game, and we came out on the short end of it. But not for lack of togetherness or effort or competitiveness or trying or poise. We just lost.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Takeaways From BYU’s Upset NCAA Loss To Duquesne