L.J. had a great game. It may not show up in the stats, but he played hard —Nick Emery on L.J. Rose
PROVO — Like most nights, Eric Mika and Nick Emery shone in the spotlight throughout BYU's 85-75 win over San Francisco on Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
Whether it was plays from their star players or key reserves, there were several moments — both large and small — that stood out from the Cougars' hard-fought conference win over a scrappy Dons team.
Mika's second-half start
Mika was held to eight points in the first half, but he more than doubled that point total in the opening 3:12 of the second half. After missing a jumper to start the final 20 minutes, Mika scored the Cougars' first nine points of the second half.
That came on four jumpers, as well as a free throw, as Mika helped BYU maintain its halftime lead. That hot start set the tone, as Mika hit 9 of 11 shots from the field in the second half, including eight straight at one point, en route to a 23-point second-half total while BYU shot 13 of 17 from 2-point range in the final 20 minutes.
"In the second half we were better at spacing things on offense," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "Early in the game he was a little frustrated with a lack of space, but in the second half we were able to get him some more."
Emery’s steal and score
Emery has emerged as the team's top defender, proving to disrupt opposing teams along the guard line.
Early in the first half, Emery showed off some skill that was reminiscent of his older brother Jackson Emery, the Cougars' all-time steals leader. With just over 14 minutes left in the first half, Nick Emery cut off a pass from Mladen Djordjevic to Ronnie Boyce, then raced up court to finish the play with a layup in front of Boyce on the fastbreak.
It was one of two steals on the night for Emery, who is averaging 2.05 steals per game this season.
Bryant’s late 3-pointer
Sophomore wing player Elijah Bryant continues to carve out a more prominent role with the Cougars after recently returning from an injury. Against San Francisco, he played a season-high 33 minutes coming off the bench and had 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.
That included hitting a late 3-pointer when the Cougars were nursing a nine-point lead with just under three minutes to play. Following the game, Rose spoke of the difficulty incorporating a player into the system, like Bryant, halfway through the season, but on this play, Bryant fit perfectly into the rhythm of the offense.
With guards Bryant, Emery and L.J. Rose on the court, BYU worked through its offense until Rose kicked it inside to Mika. The Cougars' star forward noticed an open opportunity and immediately kicked out to Bryant beyond the arc. Bryant quickly released on the 3-pointer, drilling the team's only 3-point shot not made by Emery to put the Cougars up by 12.
The stat line for Rose didn't stand out like those of Mika, Emery or Bryant, but Emery made sure to praise his starting point guard for his effort against the Dons.
"L.J. had a great game. It may not show up in the stats, but he played hard," Emery said of Rose.
Rose finished the night with a team-leading five assists, five rebounds and a steal, to go along with two points. He and Emery worked particularly well together in the first half, as Rose's first three assists — all in the first 10 minutes of the game — came on field goals by Emery. Rose assisted Emery on back-to-back shots, including a 3-pointer that gave BYU a 12-point edge midway through the first half.
Childs’ two late blocks
San Francisco found success throughout the night, as the Dons have this season, penetrating the key from the 3-point line and getting field goals in the lane.
"They did a great job of exploiting matchups," Dave Rose said.
Still, freshman Yoeli Childs had three blocks on the night, including two in back-to-back San Francisco possessions late in the game that helped BYU maintain a safe lead on the Dons. Childs is now tied with Mika for a team-best 30 blocks this season.
It's that kind of interior defense the Cougars will need to continue to build on this season and beyond.