Jake Toolson is a bad man.
With Southern Utah University on the brink of an upset, he near single handedly carried Brigham Young University to victory.
Toolson originally committed to BYU back in 2014, but transferred to Utah Valley University after not seeing the court. He played very well under Mark Pope at UVU, and when Pope was hired as the head coach for the Cougars, Toolson followed him back to BYU as a grad transfer.
With star guard TJ Haws battling foul trouble and star forward Yoeli Childs out due to suspension, Toolson had to shoulder the majority of BYU’s offensive burden down the stretch.
He found great success posting up the likes of Dre Marin, Cameron Oluyitan and everyone else SUU head coach Todd Simon threw at him. His strength was too much, and he backed his way into easy looks at the rim.
Then the game hit its crescendo. John Knight III scored to pull the T-Birds within one point with just over a minute to play, 63-62. The crowd roared. Toolson came around a screen, hesitated, then took a step back three. The ball rose and fell with a picturesque arc and ripped through the net.
Four point lead, 30 seconds remaining. A few made free throws later and BYU escaped with a 68-63 win. They did it by the skin of Toolson’s teeth.
He was 1 for 7 from three point range before that shot. Then he buried the most important look of the game, and the T-Birds along with it.
That was the difference between the teams. One shot kept SUU from their first win against BYU since 2007. It was an incredible performance, and even with the loss, it was a very encouraging sign for the future of Simon’s squad.
With a road contest at UCLA on Monday, the T-Birds have a lot to digest the morning after Toolson’s dagger. Here are a few takeaways from last night’s loss:
John Knight III Can Take Over Games
JK3 was clearly the best athlete on the floor on Wednesday. Simon brought him in off the bench for some scoring punch, and he delivered 22 points in 23 minutes. He shot 9 of 14 from the field, grabbed six rebounds and was 4 of 5 from the free throw line.
No one could stop him from getting into the lane. Drive after drive he would challenge defenders at the rim, absorb contact in the air, wait for gravity to pull the defender down to Earth and then lay the ball in.
BYU head coach Mark Pope took notice of his performance, and had to adjust on the fly as Knight heated up.
“That was a way different way than how we guard every single day in practice,” Pope told reporters post game. “We were kind of breaking our own principles.”
The junior guard broke BYU down. He made a preseason favorite to make the NCAA tournament bend to his will. Pope couldn’t help but sing his praises.
“Knight was beating two of our guys off the bounce, missing his shot and getting his own rebound over four of our guys and then finishing. He’s a special athlete.”
He doesn’t need a play drawn up, a good screen or a runway to the rim to score. His athleticism is unguardable, and if his decision making can process at the same speed his body moves, he’ll run rampant through the Big Sky conference.There are still things to tweak. Knight turned the ball over three times and picked up four personal fouls. He only had one assist, and got caught in the air at times. His athleticism covers some of those shortcomings, but there’s a chance he can take his game to another level.
Last night showed why the program was so ecstatic to sign him. His efficiency was incredible. The Big Sky better take notice.
Three Point Shooting and Turnovers Are Legitimate Road Blocks
SUU went 0-12 from three point range, and had 18 turnovers. Against Nebraska last Saturday the T-Birds shot 4-23 from three and had 18 turnovers. There is a pattern emerging here.
This is not to nitpick back to back big time performances, but it will be an area of concern going forward. Chalk it up to consecutive ice cold luck, but 4-35 (11%) is very bad.
Simon played down the shooting slump by pointing to how well the team shoots in practice. Shooting well on the road is tough, but SUU play six of their 10 preseason games on the road this season.
It’s encouraging to know that SUU won’t rely solely on three point shooting, but making shots from the outside opens up space for the slashers, and there are a lot of slashers on this team. If no one can make shots, then teams will just clog the lane like BYU did.
Spacing might even be more important than the actual points. This is a team built around penetration. Simon can probably sort it out, but it’s something to watch going forward.
Turnovers on the other hand, are not as easy to sort out. Some of the turnovers were product of nerves, but most of them were because of forcing the ball into the lane.
Andre Adams got the ball at the top of the key and tried to cross his man over, and predictably, had the ball knocked away. Harrison Butler picks up too many offensive fouls on drives. Cameron Oluyitan coughed it up five times against BYU. Dwayne Morgan gave it away four times against Nebraska and three times against BYU.
BYU scored 15 points off of turnovers.
Giving the ball away puts the T-Birds in an unnecessary hole. They have been able to cover for it with tenacious defense and rebounding, but the next step in their progression will come with protecting the ball more.
Elite Rim Protection, Even with Foul Trouble
BYU could not get to the rim with any consistency, and it has all to do with SUU’s defense. They held Nebraska to 78 points in double overtime as a precursor to holding BYU to just 68 on their home court.
The Cougars were held to less than 68 points in the Marriott Center just three times last season. They lost two of those three.
Oluyitan, Knight and Long made life difficult for BYU’s playmakers, and even when they got into the lane they were met by Adams, Morgan and David N’Diaye at the rim. Morgan and Adams both finished with four fouls, and the defense hardly flinched. When Adams had to sit with foul trouble last year, they melted down on the inside.
The T-Birds blocked six shots against BYU and seven against Nebraska. The big men are an intimidating force around the rim. Toolson backed some guys down, but nearly every drive to the basket was contested.
Defense might be the team’s strong suit. They move off the ball well. There’s so much length and athleticism with their wings, and Big Sky teams will struggle to get around them.
Overall, it was a solid performance, despite the loss. Simon has a really good idea of his team’s strengths and weaknesses in the early going, and UCLA present another tough challenge on Monday, Nov. 18.