George, BYU basketball keeps Nicholls off glass to win ‘mess of a game’

George, BYU basketball keeps Nicholls off glass to win ‘mess of a game’

Nicholls State Colonels’ Edoardo Del Cadia (23) jumps in front of BYU’s Rudi Williams (3) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. BYU won 87-73. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

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PROVO — BYU didn’t put its turnover woes aside in Saturday night’s non-conference game with visiting Nicholls.

The Cougars just managed to get past them.

Fousseyni Traore had 15 points, seven rebounds and one block; and Gideon George added 15 points and 10 rebounds as BYU stunned Southland Conference foe Nicholls 87-73 to improve to 3-1 Saturday night in front of 13,745 fans at the Marriott Center.

Rudi Williams had 10 points, six assists and four rebounds for the Cougars, who beat the Colonels 54-31. Atiki Ally Atiki had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting with two boards, Noah Waterman chipped in 7 points and seven rebounds, and Spencer Johnson had 7 points and four rebounds in a balanced effort for BYU.

“It was just a mess of a game all night, which is a credit to Nicholls; that’s why they’re back-to-back league champions,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “They play very hard and they really compete. They played less than they usually do tonight, because they were missing their starting center, and it made the game a bit chaotic … It’s a very difficult game for Fouss and Atiki, but I thought both these guys were spectacular.

“We had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half and that probably saved us,” he added. “We didn’t play well, we didn’t shoot well, we had nine turnovers in the first half, and the stat that was glaring while we let them shoot over 50% from the 3-point line was that we were still right in the game — because we had 11 offensive returns.

“I’m super proud of the guys’ effort there. It’s something very important; we have to take advantage of it where we can.”

BYU's Noah Watermann (0) dribbles the ball while being defended by Nicholls' Pierce Spencer (5) at the Marriott Center in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. BYU won 87-73.
BYU’s Noah Watermann (0) dribbles the ball while being defended by Nicholls’ Pierce Spencer (5) at the Marriott Center in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. BYU won 87-73. (Photo: Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

Nichols (0-3) converted nine first-half turnovers into 12 points, and BYU shot just 39% from the field (including 5-of-22 from 3-point range) against a Colonels team that forced 22.0 turnovers per game in the loss to No. 17 Arizona and Wyoming to open the season and forced 21 while giving up just 11 to BYU.

“I feel like it was just who they were,” said Williams, who had five more turnovers to go along with six assists to finish with a plus-13 mark. “They are an aggressive team, they hack the ball and the coach told us it went in.”

The Cougars led just 4:44 into the first half, primarily through a breakout performance from freshman Richie Saunders, who had a career-high 8 points and eight rebounds at halftime. But Nichols ended the half with back-to-back 3-pointers from Jalen White to take a 40-37 advantage into halftime.

Traore added 8 points and four rebounds in the first half for BYU. White was the only player in double figures with 12 points, but three Colonels each had 6 points for a club that assisted on 10 of 14 made baskets.

George scored a pair of buckets during a 13-2 run near the start of the second half to help the Cougars to a 56-47 advantage. Hall stretched the lead as high as 12, 66-54, with a pair of free throws after BYU held the Colonels scoreless for more than three minutes midway through the second half.

“When he’s right, it makes a big difference for us,” Pope said of George, one of two seniors on the roster with Williams. “Especially when he’s protecting the ball and playing for other guys. Obviously, his impact on the glass was significant tonight.”

Turnovers have been a bug-a-boo for the Cougars through the first two weeks of the year, ranking 340th nationally with 18.7 giveaways per game. Part of that is due to BYU’s style of play, a fast, spectacular group of newcomers who play in transition and above the rim.

But there is no excuse, assured Williams, who averaged 5.0 turnovers per game in the first four games of the year.

“I don’t point to any numbers; the turnover is mine and I take full responsibility for it,” Williams said. “I’m just going to study the game more, watch film more, go over my scout, understand the defenses I’m going against and make sure they’re limited.”

Saunders finished with 9 points, nine rebounds and one assist for the Cougars.

Marek Nelson led Nichols with 15 points and three rebounds, and Micah Nelson added 11 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Colonels.

BYU heads to the Bahamas on Sunday, where it will participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis starting Thursday against USC. The Cougars could also face Tennessee and Butler in a field that includes Dayton, Kansas, North Carolina State and Wisconsin.

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while mixing in prep sports, education and whatever else his editors give him to do.

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