Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better ending.
Earlier in the week and for the first time since 2011, BYU jumped into the Top 25, the Cougars were hosting No. 2 Gonzaga on Senior Night and fans were camping out days before the big game.
For BYU’s seven seniors, the stage was set for what would become an unforgettable moment playing their final game inside the Marriott Center.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric, with ESPN’s Dave Flemming (play-by-play) and Sean Farnham (analyst) frequently commenting about the number of fans in attendance, as well as how loud the arena was.
“I’ve done a lot of games this year, but this has been the loudest game this season,” said Flemming. “A huge credit to BYU’s student section, with many of them camping overnight just to get a seat at the game.”
With it being the last home game of their careers, losing was certainly not an option Saturday night for BYU’s seniors as they got in done on both ends of the floor to give the Cougars a thrilling 91-78 home victory.
“They are all over the place,” Farnham said during the game regarding BYU’s defense. “Guys are taking charges and diving for loose balls. You can tell they are giving everything they have and are leaving everything out on the court tonight.”
“It was unbelievable,” T.J. Haws said about Senior Night and the pre-game ceremony. “I was in the tunnel and I started tearing up a little bit. Yoeli was like, ‘We’ll cry after, bro.’ It was amazing. These fans are incredible. How they showed out tonight was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
“It’s sad that we won’t be able to play out there again,” added Yoeli Childs. “But there’s not a group of guys I’d rather do it with. We have the best fan base in the country and we just showed the country what we do at home.”
Playing in their final game at the Marriott Center, BYU’s seniors made the most of it as Childs finished another double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds. It was the 43rd time that Childs has scored more than 20 points in a game. Jake Toolson added 17 points, six assists and four steals and Haws chipped in with 16 points and had a game-high eight assists. The trio combined for 61 points on the night.
“I’m so happy for our guys. This is a senior laden team, they said they’re going to give it one more shot,” BYU coach Mark Pope told ESPN after the game. “These guys have been through so much, we could go through each individual story, they’ve been through setbacks and they keep coming back.”
It’s been a wild year for the BYU basketball team. Before the season started, senior Zac Seljaas broke his foot and sophomore forward Gavin Baxter tore his labrum and fractured his right shoulder at practice. Childs has also missed playing time as the senior had to sit out the first nine games of the season because he did not submit the correct draft paperwork.
Despite getting Childs back from his nine-game suspension, the senior had to sit out several more games midway through the season after injuring his hand in practice. Then two weeks ago, senior forward Dalton Nixon went down with a rare double-sided ankle sprain.
The Cougars haven’t been able to catch a break this season with regards to injuries and challenges, which made Saturday’s win even more special for a team that is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out the last few years.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock and as the crowd rushed the court in celebration, BYU players and coaches could only smile in what was a fitting way to end Senior Night.
The win ended several streaks for Gonzaga, including the Zags’ 19-game winning streak, as well as the team’s 40-game winning streak in conference play.
And to top it all off, the victory was Pope’s 100th win of his career.
BYU’s Night: During one of the timeouts, a BYU student send the crowd into a frenzy after he hit a half court shot to win $8,000. The student raced over to the student section where he did his best “Lambeau Leap” celebration into the stands. At that point, you just knew that it was going to be BYU’s night.