Despite a less-than-ideal final five minutes, the BYU Cougars defeated the Kansas State University Wildcats 72-66 at the Marriott Center on Saturday night.

“I mean, it was a good win,” Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson said. “It was a great win. We obviously didn’t get the results we wanted near the end of the stretch in the second half but we pulled through and got the job done. So that is all that matters.”

Robinson’s comments summarize the game to a tee. The Cougars looked great at times, but they left the door open late.

With that being said, here are three stories from Saturday’s catfight.

Not-so-free throws

The Cougars found themselves up 16 points with under six minutes remaining in the game after Noah Waterman cashed a corner three-pointer.

On most nights, Waterman’s three should have been the dagger. BYU controlled the game since the first media timeout of the game. Yet on Saturday, Arthur Kaluma made the Marriott Center fall silent when he made it 66-64 with 1:11 remaining.

How on earth did Kansas State get back in the game?

Some of the rally can be attributed to increased defensive play from the Wildcats.

“Yeah, we just started pressuring the ball a lot more,” Kaluma said. “We picked up a lot higher. Leaned into a little bit of a press. And I feel like we just had more energy, you know, and more energy leads to them taking quick shots and us getting boards and being able to get out in transition.”

While this is true, the Cougars also shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line.

BYU shot 2-for-7 from the free-throw line after Waterman put them ahead by 16. They also shot 4-for-12 from the line in the half. When you’re closing out a lead, shooting 33.3% from the free throw line in a half is a surefire way to let the opposing team back into the game.

“It’s not my favorite thing in the world,” said Cougars head coach Mark Pope postgame. “To be clearly honest, I would like to make more of those.”

Yes, the Cougars did hold on and secure the victory– thanks in large part to Robinson, who stepped up and hit a three-pointer with 0:51 remaining, putting BYU ahead 69-64.

“I mean, it was just kind of a staggered screen,” Robinson said. “I came off, was just aggressive, looking for my shot and just let it go. And it went in.”

As a team, BYU is shooting 71.6% from the free throw line this season. Saturday was very out of the ordinary for them. They survived a scare though, and managed to hang on for victory.

Balanced scoring

Against Oklahoma last Tuesday, just three Cougars scored double-digit points.

Saturday night was a stark contrast. No player put up amazing point totals, but five players scored double-digit points. Fousseyni Traore had 14 points, Spencer Johnson had 12 points, Robinson had 12 points, Waterman had 11 points and Trevin Knell had 10 points. This is the definition of contributions from top to bottom.

The fact is, BYU does not have “that guy” who is going to put up a consistent 20+ points per game. What they do have, though, are solid players throughout their lineup. Dallin Hall and Aly Khalifa struggled to score in Saturday’s matchup, but they can chip in 10+ in a game as well. This is the kind of scoring that will make BYU dangerous in March. If one of these seven guys finds a way to score 20 points in a game — and there is a real possibility for that to happen — and add in five more players with 10+, then they are looking at 70 points minimum.

Yes, free throws were an issue on Saturday. But you can spin that problem and say, “We scored 72 points in a game where they left eight points at the line.”

Saturday could be a sign of good things to come for BYU.

Trey here to stay?

Trey Stewart returned to action for BYU against the Wildcats. He contributed four points, three rebounds, two steals and one assist in nine minutes of play. Beyond the stats, Stewart brought energy to the BYU lineup.

“I was really proud of Trey,” Pope said. “He’s been increasingly bringing unbelievable energy to our practices, in our locker room, and playing great in practice, been working hard. His minutes were really, really important tonight.”

Before Saturday, Stewart had not seen minutes since BYU’s second Big 12, against the Baylor University on Jan. 9. He played just one second in that game. His four points were his first points since a made free throw with 6:55 remaining in BYU’s final non-conference game against the University of Wyoming on Dec. 30, 2023.

In a previous press conference, Mark Pope mentioned that Stewart’s absence was not due to an injury, which implies that it was Pope’s decision for Stewart to not play for seven games.

Hall has seemingly been BYU’s only option at point guard in those games. Other players have stepped in for short spurts, but Hall has been getting a lot of hard minutes. On a number of occasions, Pope has chosen to play Hall, despite him having four fouls and over 10 minutes remaining in the game.

The re-addition of Stewart to the Cougars’ lineup will undoubtedly serve BYU well— especially as the long and grueling Big 12 schedule rolls on and a March Madness berth seems destined for the Cougars.

What lies ahead?

BYU will see its first repeat opponent of the season on Tuesday when the University of Central Florida Knights march into the Marriott Center.

“I mean, what a team,” Pope said. “My gosh, like, it’s like a slugfest and they’re doing an unbelievable job. They’ve done a great job moving to the Big 12. They’ve had huge wins. They’re ridiculously physical and athletic. Johnny (Dawkins) is a great coach, and a better human being and I love him. And so it’s going to be an all-out war, just like games in this league are.”

The Cougars will be looking to sweep the season series on Saturday, after they defeated UCF 63-58 in Orlando, Florida on Jan. 13.

Standings-wise, BYU currently sits in seventh place in the Big 12 with a record of 5-5. UCF sits one game behind the Cougars with a 4-6 record. Oklahoma University is a half-game ahead of BYU. They travel to Waco, Texas to battle with Baylor on Tuesday.

BYU’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+.