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March 15, 2012

BYU Riding Momentum

So what do you do for an encore in the NCAA tournament following two seasons of Jimmer Mania? How about the greatest comeback in the history of the event?

BYU's history-making, come-from behind win over Iona on Tuesday night is the kind of thing that can launch a team toward big things in the Big Dance.

The Cougars were left for dead after they trailed the Gaels by 25 points in the first half of the First Four game of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio.

However, BYU made a comeback that will take its place in the annuals of BYU sports lore, right up there next to Danny Ainge's dash through all five Notre Dame defenders in 1981 to advance the Cougars into the Elite Eight and Jim McMahon's Hail Mary bomb to Clay Brown to beat the Pony Express in the 1980 Miracle Bowl.

After being run off the court by Iona during the first 15 minutes of the game, BYU outscored the nation's highest scoring team 47-17 over the final 25 minutes to complete the greatest come back in the history of the 73-year tournament.

The Cougars used their match up zone and finally got the ball down low to their two front court stars Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock to help gain control of the game. Hartsock scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. BYU also got big time help from an unlikely source in seldom-used freshman guard Damarcus Harrison who scored 12 points and had three rebounds in his 21 minutes on the court.

Big kudos are also due walk-on point guard Craig Cusik. The former Orem High star didn't score a point and went 0-4 from the field, but he came in for a struggling Matt Carlino and steadied the ship when it looked like it would be swamped. Cusik dished out eight assists to just one turnover and settled down a BYU offense that had its collective head spinning.

BYU now makes the short drive south to Louisville to face the No 3 seed in the Marquette Golden Eagles, a team that finished second in the Big East this season just behind Syracuse.

After what they accomplished in the second half against Iona, the Cougars may be the loosest team in the tournament. Whatever success they may have from this point forward is gravy. Tuesday night's win not only provides BYU with a tremendous amount of momentum, it gives the players a great deal of confidence that they can handle whatever adversity may come their way.

Marquette represents a step up in competition. Like Iona the Golden Eagles play an up-tempo style, but unlike the Gaels they sport a tenacious half-court defense as well as the Big East Player of the Year in Jae Crowder.

Crowder (6-6, 235 Sr.) is a beast who averages nearly 18 points and just over eight rebounds per game. In addition to being league MVP he was also named one of 15 finalists for the John Wooden Award.

BYU will also face another of the country's top guards in Darius Johnson-Odom, a first team All-Big East selection. The senior led Marquette in scoring this season by averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three.

The Cougars will have to play better than they did on Tuesday for the entire 40 minutes to have a chance at knocking off Marquette. They also need a better game plan than the one they came up with for Iona, which included trying to play man-to-man defense in the first half against a team that was much quicker, faster and more athletic.

Though the Golden Eagles are not much taller than Iona, they are much more physical and battle hardened, having endured the brawling style of basketball that is commonplace in the Big East.

That being said, if BYU is hitting on all cylinders the Cougars have a chance. They have the advantage of already having played a game in the tournament, which may help them get off to a good start. If they do start fast and are hitting their shots early on, then this game will be very interesting.


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