PROVO — BYU coach Dave Rose cracked the door open for guard Skyler Halford on Saturday. The JC transfer blew off the hinges.
With the Cougars searching for answers after losing four in a row, Rose started Halford in place of Matt Carlino. Halford responded with a career-high 28 points to lead BYU past San Diego, 87-53.
If nothing else, Halford delivered consistency.
“It was fun. I was just trying to do my best to help the team and it was a team win,” said Halford, who took first-team reps during the week. “Nothing is ever set in stone. I’m just doing what they tell me to do.”
Halford hit 11 of 16 field goals, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, another career high. Plus, he was primarily responsible for guarding Johnny Dee, the Toreros' leading scorer and a guy who was averaging 27 in WCC play. Dee finished with just eight points on two field goals.
It remains to be seen if Halford can keep the starting shooting guard spot over Carlino, the struggling junior.
But on this night, Halford’s guns never stopping blazing until he took to the bench with 6:41 left to play and his Cougars up by a gob of points.
The switch was inevitable after Carlino continued to struggle during the opening week of WCC play as the Cougars suffered back-to-back conference defeats. Last Monday at Pepperdine, Carlino was 1 of 7 from the field and scored four points. He’d been shooting 27 percent from distance. It’s been tough for Carlino to adjust to the shooting guard position after having control of the ball during his BYU career.
Halford, on the other hand, had been getting half of Carlino’s 28-minute-per-game average, yet added a spark most of the time he had gotten into games. Averaging just 15.1 minutes per game, if one extended Halford’s minutes, you figured he might double his production. It was possible — at least up to speculation — that the former Salt Lake Community College All-American might get 16 points a game. If his percentages held up, he’d be a needed 3-point threat (41 percent) with a respectable 55 percent shooting percentage from the field.
In this game, he surpassed those margins. He played 26 minutes and nearly produced a point a minute while shooting 69 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
The results were evident and immediate.
Kyle Collinsworth continually set up Halford and kicked the ball out to Tyler Haws (17 points).
Halford got his stroke going and Carlino came in with just more than 12 minutes to play in the first half. Carlino was the poster boy for control, discipline and patience, passing the ball multiple times while looking off shots.
The Cougars played almost exclusively man defense, and the move produced desired results in getting Rose’s squad more energy on both ends of the floor. San Diego scored just 23 points in the first half.
Why is that 23 figure a big deal?
Because defensively, the Cougars have spent most of this season giving up 40 to 50 points to opponents by halftime. The 23 points scored by San Diego are the fewest allowed by BYU in a half this season, and that includes Colorado Mesa and Prairie View A&M, which had 28.
Halford made six of his first eight shots, including three treys, in a full 20 minutes during the first half. He led all scorers at that juncture with 15. He hit his first attempt to start the second half, putting BYU up 45-23. Then he hit his second and was 8 of 10 for 19 points.
At one point, Dee showed his frustration by pushing off Halford and earning an offensive foul.
“Jonny Dee is a very talented player,” said Halford. “He’s racing around all the time. We had a great game plan in by the coaches; it was a big team effort in containing him."
So for at least this night, BYU found a shooting guard in Halford, the kid from Orem who earned his stripes on the JC circuit with a lot of big nights just like this.
He’ll take it.
“The basket starts to feels big,” he said of nights when everything seems to drop. “It’s just that feeling you get when you get in a zone. It's a great feeling.”
For the sake of Rose, it was good to see somebody else besides Haws experience this kind of night.
Nights where shooters look at the rim and see a swimming pool.
The Cougars could use more of that.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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