BYU-by-way-of-Mali freshman Fousseyni Traore assists in Hawaii win

HONOLULU, Hawaii – True freshman forward Fousseyni Traore scored a career-high 19 points and led BYU men’s basketball to an 80-75 win over a hot-shooting Liberty team in the third-place game at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sherriff Center on Saturday afternoon.

“Our whole freshmen class has great upside, but Traore and Atiki have been thrown into service before they’re supposed to be,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope to school staff. “I don’t want to put them in situations that will mess with their confidence or put a lot of pressure on them, but Fouss is just like, ‘Why are you worried about that coach?’ He’s very special. We’re really blessed to have him.”

Traore posted his first career double-double as he complimented his scoring output with 13 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. In his first career start, Traore made his mark on all aspects of the game, shooting 7-of-8 from the free-throw line and registering an assist, steal, and block.

The Bamako, Mali native was named to Diamond Head Classic All-Tournament Team for his career-day against the Flames.

BYU battled back from a game-high deficit of six at the beginning of the second half to take the lead at 40-38 off two straight possessions in which Traore scored in the post while drawing a foul and hitting the subsequent free-throws.

The Cougars and Flames continued to joust for the lead until BYU’s defense came up with four consecutive possessions with forced turnovers, including a block from Traore and a steal by Spencer Johnson.

BYU’s takeaways turned into points with 3-pointers from Trevin Knell and Gideon George.

Caleb Lohner scored on back-to-back possessions to give BYU its game-high lead of nine at 67-58 with under four minutes remaining.

Liberty hadn’t flamed out quite yet, though, as the Flames hit multiple 3-pointers to keep the game tight in the final minutes.

The Cougars preserved their lead and the win with a key made free throws in the game’s waning moments from Te’Jon Lucas and Alex Barcello.

Free-throw shooting proved critical as the Cougars made up for a frigid 16% from distance with 83% from the charity stripe. BYU shot 47% from the field, 60% in the second half alone.

Liberty shot an almost deadly 41% from 3-point range, 49% from distance but 67% from the free-throw line.

Knell scored a season-high 15 points, shooting 5-of-10 from the field, including 11 in the second half. Lucas finished in double-figures with 11 points and nine points apiece from George and Barcello.

The Cougars also outscored the Flames 38-30 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 35-23.

After five games on the road, BYU returns home to take on Westminster at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Dec. 29. Watch the Cougars take on the Griffins on BYUtv or tune in for live play-by-play on KSL Radio.

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