BYU and Missouri State will come into their Saturday meeting in Springfield, Mo., with a sour taste in their mouths after what happened to them on courts 1,400 miles apart Wednesday night.
In Orem, Utah, the 12th-ranked Cougars (6-1) were upset at neighboring Utah Valley University, 72-65 in overtime, dropping their first game of the season after vaulting into the rankings.
Meanwhile in Normal, Ill., the Bears (4-3) opened their Missouri Valley Conference schedule with a disappointing 79-74 overtime setback at Illinois State.
The Cougars and Bears were missing starters in their defeats, with BYU starting forward Gideon George sidelined because of a non-COVID illness and Missouri State starting point guard Demarcus Sharp unavailable due to a leg injury. BYU lost another starter, big man Gavin Baxter, for the season in the first half after he tore an anterior cruciate ligament.
If the teams play with an edge, the injuries might explain why.
BYU was soaring before stumbling against the Wolverines, earning its highest ranking this far into the season in 40 years earlier in the week. However, the Cougars only shot 31.9 percent from the field, couldn’t maintain their late seven-point lead and had no answer for Utah Valley center Fardaws Aimaq, who had 24 points, 22 rebounds, five steals, four assists and three blocked shots.
“We just weren’t great tonight. We just weren’t good enough to win this game,” said BYU coach Mark Pope, who previously was the head coach at Utah Valley for four seasons. “But it wasn’t for a lack of effort or commitment. We just weren’t great tonight. For them to hang in there, I was super proud of them.”
Pope said the loss of Baxter, an interior force, will be tough for BYU to deal with moving forward. The Cougars are also playing without another big man, 6-foot-11 center Richard Harward, who is sidelined indefinitely because of a cardiovascular issue.
“It has a huge impact on our team. It didn’t have anything to do with (Wednesday’s defeat),” Pope said of Baxter’s third major injury in two years. “Utah Valley beat us and they earned it. They deserve it. Going forward, it’s what you do during the course of a season. It’s a journey. You take it and you have to get better.”
Even without its floor general, Missouri State jumped ahead of Illinois State early on, taking a 31-21 lead just before halftime. however, Illinois State hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to go into the break down 34-32.
The Bears regained most of that lead to pull ahead by nine, led by Gaige Prim, who finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds. But Illinois State rallied in the last four minutes to force overtime and then controlled the extra session.
“Ultimately, I didn’t get our guys across the finish line,” Missouri State coach Dana Ford said postgame on the team’s radio broadcast. “I did not execute down the stretch and it cost us. I have to do a better job when we’re in those positions.”
–Field Level Media