BYU basketball fans who stayed home to avoid icy roads Wednesday night missed the team's best performance of the season.
The Cougars (5-4) kept their ball-handling errors to a manageable level and shot 61 percent from the field in whipping James Madison (3-3), 84-66, in a half-empty Marriott Center.BYU even polished off the James Madison Dukes, of Harrisonburg, Va., in timely enough fashion that the 10,000 fans who did show up could leave early, if they so chose.
The game was decided in the first couple of minutes of the second half. BYU, leading 38-31 entering the final period, took advantage of four missed shots, two turnovers and two fouls by the Dukes to race to a 17-point lead.
The closest James Madison got the rest of the way was 10 points, at 63-53, but BYU ran off the next seven points to put it away for good.
More significantly, BYU turned the ball over "only" 17 times, while making numerous steals that contributed to the Dukes' 20-turnover total.
"We only had 17 turnovers?" BYU Coach Roger Reid said on seeing the stat sheet. "That's a major breakthrough. We finally got out of the 20s."
The Cougars also showed improvement in another area: three-point field goals allowed. After being burned from long range in previous games, Reid told his perimeter defenders to play their men tight, relying on the big guys inside to help out against the drive. The Dukes made seven of 19 three-pointers, but that weapon wasn't a factor while the game was close.
Reid said he was surprised by the lopsided score, considering his players have been missing practices while studying for and taking final exams. Guard Nathan Call said he thinks finals had a positive effect on the players.
"I expected us to play well," Call said, "because most of our players are done with finals, and when you finish with finals you feel a burst of energy."
James Madison Coach Lefty Driesell, on the other hand, didn't talk about finals or turnovers or biorhythms or astrological charts in summing up this game. He expressed it in simple, down-home terms.
"They just kicked our butts."
Here's how it went: On BYU's first offensive foray, Bradley bounced a pass past Schreiner and into the hands of a Duke. Reid had to be thinking he'd seen this before. But Bradley came right back and opened the Cougar scoring on a turnaround jumper in the lane, and a few seconds later he stuffed the Dukes' Chancellor Nichols when the beefy Nichols tried to muscle a shot over him.
Bradley had a mere (for him) five blocked shots in this game, but three of them came in the first few minutes and changed all the Dukes' ideas about shooting a basketball. They discovered that no arch is too high when a mobile 7-6 guy with a wingspan like a 747 is parked in the middle.
"Bradley kind of intimidated our players," Driesell said.
Three minutes into the game BYU was up 10-1 and JMU's 6-8 Billy Coles, assigned to guard Bradley, had three fouls. The third was a frustration foul, assessed when he hacked Kenneth Roberts on a drive after getting his shot slapped away by Bradley on the other end. Driesell no doubt understood Coles' motivation, but he yanked him anyway and sent in 6-6 Troy Bostic to guard Bradley.
On the offensive end, meanwhile, all those 6-something Dukes were having little effect on Bradley. He scored 12 of BYU's first 19 points, and after two straight buckets at the 10-minute mark, Driesell called time out, benchedBostic and sentenced 6-8 Jeff Chambers to guard the BYU center.
"Y'all act like you're scared out there," Driesell shouted at his team during the timeout. "That guy (Bradley) ain't nothin'."
The Dukes returned to the floor to find BYU backup center Gary Trost waiting for them instead of you-know-who. Suddenly allowed to roam free (or at least more freely), JMU went to a three-guard attack and put together an 11-3 run to take the lead at 23-22.
By then Bradley had re-entered, but it remained close until Scott Moon hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give BYU the seven-point halftime margin.
In the second half, Jared Miller, taking advantage of his longest appearance while Steve Schreiner sat on the bench in foul trouble, scored six points as BYU made its decisive 10-0 run. Miller, who has been hampered in the past by his own foul problems, had 11 points in the half en route to a career-high 17. He also led the team with eight rebounds.
When Miller finally cooled off, Moon picked up the slack. He scored seven points in one two-minute stretch, had 13 in the half and 19 in the game. It was his career high, and it included a couple of steals, length-of-the-court dashes and swooping dunks.
The bench contributions from Moon and Miller were encouraging signs for the rest of the Cougar season, as was the improved ballhandling. Starting point guard Call played his best game, with eight assists, six points and - this is a big one - two turnovers in 33 minutes.
Driesell said he had been led to believe that BYU's guards weren't as good as they played. In fact, during one timeout he told his team that the Cougar backcourt consisted of the "slowest guards in America." Afterward he jokingly suggested that the local press had hurt his cause.
"Y'all said they were no good and they went and got mad," the coach said. "The morning paper didn't even mention that Moon kid and he killed us."
BYU, now 5-4, next plays Friday against Stetson, and Saturday against Tulsa. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. in the Marriott Center.