Provo, Utah (AP)—Despite being only the second game of the season, the instate rivalry between Brigham Young and Utah State proved to be an intense, loud contest more suited for a midseason contest.
It was BYU’s execution and clutch free throw shooting that turned out to be the deciding factor down the stretch.
With the Cougars (2-0) leading 74-71 and 25 seconds left, Noah Hartsock and Jimmer Fredette each hit two free throws to give BYU a 78-72 win over Utah State Wednesday night.
“Free throws really made a big difference down the stretch,” said Utah State coach Stew Morrill. “We played physical and the atmosphere made it seem like a midseason game, not the second game of the season. We gave ourselves a chance to win and that makes this a really tough game to lose.”
BYU shot 77 percent from the free throw line on the night including 13-of-15 in the second half while Utah State shot 58 percent from the line.
“I think we can really build from this,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “It’s good to have to go to the free throw line late in games, make free throws, get offensive and defensive rebounds late, get a stop here and there when there’s a lot of pressure and a lot on the line.”
Fredette scored 26 points to lead No. 23 BYU. Hartsock scored 15 with Charles Abouo and Jackson Emery adding 13 and 10 points respectively.
Tai Wesley scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half to lead the Aggies. He fouled out with 2:10 left in the game. That foul was ruled intentional and put Chris Collinsworth on the line where he converted both free throws to push the BYU lead to 74-69.
“I knew our guys would come out and compete,” said Morrill. “When you are on the road against a top 25 team you always worry that the game will get away from you. We played tough and were within three there near the end, and I would have liked to see what would have happened if Tai (Wesley) doesn’t get that intentional foul.”
In the first half, Fredette tried to break the game open early by scoring 12 of BYU’s first 15 points to help the Cougars to a 15-7 lead. Brian Green immediately responded for the Aggies by sinking three straight 3-pointers to pull within one at 17-16.
Green finished the game with 17 points for Utah State (1-1).
“We had to trap Jimmer (Fredette) and that got us strung out on defense because we were putting two guys on one player,” said Morrill. “It was a gamble we were willing to take.”
The two teams exchanged baskets the remainder of the first half with neither team leading by more than four. Hartsock connected on two free throws with six tenths of a second remaining in the half to tie the game at 33.
Brady Jardine had a game-high 12 rebounds for the Aggies.