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BYU outlasts Utah State on Cusick's buzzer-beater

The Cougars needed an improbable last-second shot by Craig Cusick to escape with a 70-68 win over their in-state rivals.

Douglas C. Pizac-USA Today Sport

It's OK. It's all over. You can exhale now.

After doing everything in their power to blow yet another winnable game and continue their recent death spiral of basketball despair, BYU got a miraculous mid-range putback from Craig Cusick as time expired to stave off a second straight defeat at the hands of Utah State. Yes, you read that right: a mid-range putback — whatever that is.

Praise Jimmer.

With 30 seconds left on the game clock and the opportunity to take the last shot, coach Dave Rose opted to have Matt Carlino dribble the clock down to single digits. Obviously wary of shooting too early after getting burned in the same scenario by Matthew "Australian Voodoo" Dellavedova in the Saint Mary's game, Rose instructed Carlino to trigger the play with 7 seconds remaining — a simple pick and roll at the top of the key with Brandon Davies. The Aggies covered it well, sealing off Carlino's driving lane and daring him to take a pull-up three, which ricocheted hard off the front of the iron.

Enter Craig Cusick — and also whatever God you, as a BYU fan, pray to.

Cusick, who had suffered through a frustrating outing until that point, was somehow perfectly positioned to corral the long rebound just inside the free throw line and, in one fluid motion, toss it back toward the basket without ever touching the ground. The ball swished through the net with 0.2 seconds remaining, effectively sealing a Cougar victory.

All of the climactic excitement aside, this was a strange game. The referees loomed large over the proceedings, calling an astounding 51 fouls over the course of play. (I tried looking up the record for most fouls called in a single game this season, but couldn't find it. However, I'm pretty sure 51 has to at least be in the neighborhood.) The constant whistles slowed the game down to a near-glacial pace, preventing any kind of sustainable rhythm or tempo — or, in other words, not exactly BYU's ideal style of play.

Nevertheless, despite the foul parade, the Cougars still managed to play a surprisingly effective first half, even leading by 9 at the break. Fueled by some stout zone defense (remember, BYU is incapable of playing any other kind) and Tyler Haws going to the line approximately 8 billion times, the home team looked in control and clearly superior during the opening stanza and even well into the second. BYU led by 9 after a Matt Carlino layup with 7:54 left in the game and looked poised to cruise to a relatively easy victory.

And then the letdown started. Following Carlino's layup, the Cougars proceeded to go 2-for-13 from the field to finish the game. (Thankfully, they made all six of their free throws down the stretch.) Conversely, Utah State went 6-for-11 over that same period of time, eventually tying the game on two Spencer Butterfield free throws with 56 second remaining. Then the whole Cusick thing happened and everyone went nuts and momentarily forgot that BYU almost lost this game because they went cold and couldn't get stops when they needed to. (But still, it was a great shot.)

So, what does it all mean? Probably not much. We know what this team is by now. They're a fun little group of guys, but they're not especially talented. They're going to need an improbable run of strong play to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament, but are more likely destined for a reasonably deep run in the NIT. They are who they are — and a close (albeit very exciting) win against a depleted in-state rival doesn't really change that identity in either direction.

The great hope for BYU fans is that the Cougars can use Cusick's memorable moment to build some momentum heading into Thursday's road battle against Saint Mary's, and I hope that is the case. However, it is more likely that BYU will just continue to be who they have always been — a nice group of kids who are capable of playing some pretty good basketball when the stars line up just right. And when the stars don't line up? Well, they're remarkably average.

Dellavedova waits in Moraga on Thursday. It may be time to check out some horoscopes.


UPDATE: Here is the video highlight of Cusick's big game-winning shot, courtesy of BYUtv. After watching it a few more times, I'm even more amazed by it than I was the first time. How did that happen? Great moment for a great kid.