Over the course of 33 minutes, the University at Buffalo had cut an 11-point deficit to three, with Byron Mulkey flexing and Alumni Arena on full blast. It took a supreme effort by BYU All-American Jimmer Fredette to repel the comeback.
If the Bulls want to measure themselves in resiliency rather than victories then they have a sense of progress in their 90-82 loss to the No. 16 Cougars on Thursday before 5,803. But the Bulls don't quite view the game that way.
"We have to find a way to get better from this experience and see where we go from here," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said.
They allowed too many offensive rebounds (13), committed too many turnovers (20) that led to too many points (25) while not playing good enough transition defense. In turn, that's what led Fredette to percolate.
A native of Glens Falls, Fredette scored 28 of his season-high 34 points in the second half, which led Witherspoon to call him "a bad dude."
"If you do a bad job on him, he gets 50," Witherspoon said. "There's enough witnesses out there that saw him do it."
Fredette was 11 for 24 from the field, 4 of 12 from three-point range and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
"He's a very talented player," said Mulkey, who finished with 16 points, eight assists and two steals in 40 minutes. "I was just trying to make things as difficult as possible on him. Sometimes I got caught up on screens and he was able to get some good looks, which is on me. I tried to make every shot he took as tough as possible."
Early on, Mulkey and the Bulls did just that. UB (7-4) trapped the ball screens hard on Fredette, who was 1 for 9 in the first half. He missed his first five shots, including two wild layup attempts that didn't draw iron. He finally connected on his only basket of the half, a 25-footer with 8:41 remaining.
A national Player of the Year candidate, Fredette drew NBA scouts from Memphis, Chicago, San Antonio, New Jersey and Toronto to Alumni Arena.
But UB trailed, 39-37, at the half in large part because Noah Hartsock carried the offense by scoring 15 of his 19 points.
"I've had basketball games like that," Fredette said. "You're not going to shoot the ball great every single night. But the thing is, you have to have short-term memory loss. You have to go out there and know you're a good player and still go out there and shoot shots because you know your team needs that."
Baskets in transition in the second half helped Fredette catch a rhythm.
"When you're not shooting well, the biggest thing is to see the ball go into the basket," he said. "The easiest way to do that is by making layups."
During the last 12 minutes of the game, Fredette really heated up. The Bulls trailed, 54-53, when a loose ball found its way to Fredette for a three-pointer before a Hartsock steal led to a Fredette layup. Then Fredette split the double team and found a cutting Kyle Collinsworth for a layup.
"It wasn't like anything backfired, it was like, 'Jimmer Fredette, first-team All-American,' " Witherspoon said. "We were in great position and he pulls and fires."
Fredette and the Cougars also received all they could handle from the Bulls, who proved to be rather rude hosts.
UB trailed, 68-65, after a Zach Filzen three-pointer but the momentum shifted quickly after the Bulls' Jawaan Alston was whistled for an intentional foul on Brandon Davies. He made both free throws and after the Cougars got the ball back, Fredette missed a jumper that was tipped in by Davies and BYU led ,72-65. Mulkey's layup pulled the Bulls within five but they never got closer.
The Bulls were led by junior Mitchell Watt with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, while senior point guard Mulkey had 16 points and eight assists, while freshman Javon McCrea came off the bench to score 15. Filzen had 12 and Dave Barnett 11 for the Bulls.