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The left-hander's shot from the right angle looked good all the way, but BYU freshman guard Matt Carlino's try for a tie rattled in and out of the basket.
Even in the Marriott Center, this story was not quite going to write itself.
Imagine if Carlino's shot against Baylor had gone in, forcing overtime Saturday afternoon, and the Cougars had gone on to win instead of losing, 86-83. This would have been the script: The UCLA transfer appears in his first college game, scores 21 points (or more), headlines an upset of a No. 6-ranked team, thrills a sellout crowd, instantly makes everybody forget about that Jimmer guy …
See what I mean? All of that was simply asking too much of Carlino, too soon. Most of it would have happened, if not for the basketball gods apparently willing the ball out of the hoop with about 10 seconds left.
"It was a good look," Carlino said softly in the interview room. "Had to take it. Should have made it. I thought it was in, but they don't all go in."
Enough of them did go in to give the Cougars a great chance to win, which ultimately makes this a missed opportunity. Carlino made four 3-pointers in scoring 18 points in 24 minutes, including eight points down the stretch of a tense, tough game. So when he said, "It is a loss; that's all people are going remember," Carlino was absolutely wrong.
He pretty much lived up to even the highest expectations of BYU fans in his first game. Carlino gave the Cougars the outside shooting they needed with Stephen Rogers injured and made it easy to picture him thriving against West Coast Conference guards, who will be much less aggressive and athletic than Baylor's players.
Carlino was kicking himself for a pass toward the sideline that the Bears' Brady Heslip stole in the last minute of a one-point game. "He needs experience … you need to be [accustomed to] those situations," said BYU coach Dave Rose.
So Rose was forgiving of Carlino's late-game failings, although the coach's citing as historic consolation a winning 3-point try that Fredette missed at the end of regulation in a 2009 overtime loss at Utah was slightly fictional. Jonathan Tavernari actually took that last shot.
If the lack of game competition hurt him in the final minute, it may have helped Carlino to play as a relative unknown, just this once. "In the scouting report, we didn't do Carlino justice," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "We knew he was a good shooter, but we didn't know he could make tough shots like that."
Carlino is not Jimmer, exactly, although he's already way ahead of Fredette's scoring average as a freshman while just getting started in his career. NCAA transfer eligibility rules kept him out until the semester's end.
His debut was worth the wait, other than the ending. This was a riveting, memorable game in so many ways. BYU did a lot of good things, but Baylor was just better. Brandon Davies was brilliant for BYU in stretches, making quick, decisive moves in the post and turning a rebound into a wheeling, ferocious dunk early in the game. Davies finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Illustrative of the Cougars' day, though, his impact fell off in the second half. Davies' 16th point came with 17 minutes remaining. In the end, a play that "kind of got out of kilter," according to Rose, resulted in Davies' having a 3-point attempt blocked by 5-foot-10 guard Pierre Jackson.
BYU (8-3) looked great at times, only to have Baylor repeatedly respond. The Cougars led by 13 points late in the first half, before the Bears trimmed the lead to four. BYU was up by eight points in the last 13 minutes, and then Baylor surged ahead by nine with a 23-6 run before Carlino, Noah Hartsock and Davies brought the Cougars back.
If the Cougars could have pulled out a victory against a very talented opponent, they would have rivaled their January performance against then-unbeaten San Diego State. Saturday's atmosphere resembled that night's, with the attendance almost doubling BYU's average of this season's first four home games.
Carlino's showing, in particular, "should be able to help his confidence and help our team," Rose said.
In the sense of preparing themselves for WCC play, Rose is right. The trouble, looking ahead, is that "quality losses" are not that valuable anymore for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes. Teams actually have to win games like this for them to become truly meaningful.
Carlino barely missed in his last chance to make a phenomenal first impression.