I just think it was our offense, whoever’s night it is, the job is to find guys to make shots and it was my night. Guys kept finding me and I made shots. —Elijah Bryant
PROVO — Elijah Bryant brought his cannon and GPS to BYU’s season opener, a 91-61 blowout of Mississippi Valley State Saturday night in the Marriott Center.
Bryant shot a blistering 10 of 11 from the field, 6 of 7 from distance for a game-high 27 points. He added six rebounds, all in 27 minutes.
Bryant was one made shot away from tying the Marriott Center record for field goal percentage in a game. He started on fire and the hinge on his elbow joint never cooled. As it stood, he tied Jay Cheesman for the sixth best shooting night. It’s a statistic usually reserved for big men who feed inside the paint.
If this is a comeback, this was Bryant’s statement game: He’s healthy, healed, hungry and present to be counted.
“I just think it was our offense, whoever’s night it is, the job is to find guys to make shots and it was my night,” said Bryant. “Guys kept finding me and I made shots.”
The junior 6-foot-5 guard said the key was locking in on defense. “That’s what gets us shots, getting out on breaks and that’s what gives us our shots. It kills other teams.”
He also said the Cougars are making a major effort to be more poised. This means getting the best shots, just not getting shots.
“Everyone can shoot and everyone can drive, and that helps,” he said.
A year ago, Dave Rose missed the services of Bryant in a big way. The subject of a lot of preseason hype, Bryant injured his knee before the season began and kept re-injuring it during the season in which he started just nine games.
While he showed promise scoring 39 points at Portland, the second-highest production by any WCC player that year, his knee kept him from playing full speed and you never got the feeling he was producing to potential. His show was erratic, his dribble drive moves were slow and he struggled to play with confidence.
If the game against Mississippi Valley is any indication that a Bryant comeback is on the way for Rose this year, the Cougars will benefit.
Bryant scored 16 points in the first half, many of them on silky smooth launches from distance. He drove to the basket with authority and his size and strength were evident all over the court. Several times, he simply overpowered his way past defenders or to a rebound or loose ball. He showed touch on his running floaters and finished strong at the rim.
Bryant will benefit from the new Rose approach on both ends of the court. His team values possessions far more than a year ago. The offense is run with more patience and those helter-skelter, frenzy bad 3-point attempts were rare to find.
This approach, more deliberate, more passing, making the defense move around for a while, is producing better looks.
That makes 3-point tries for the likes of Bryant, TJ Haws and Zac Seljaas more in rhythm, rhyme and reason.
It’s early, just one official game that counts, and Mississippi Valley State, the school that brought us Jerry Rice, is picked to finish near the bottom of the SWAC and were down by 41 to the Cougars.
Still to be discovered is if the Cougars have graduated from poor defenders to the higher rung, it is still unclear how much Yoeli Childs can replace the points produced by the departure of Eric Mika. And how big a loss will Nick Emery be for this squad after he announced on Friday he was withdrawing from school?
“He has our support, we’ve got his back,” said Bryant of Emery. “But as a team, we have to move on.”
Of this season, the traits Bryant wants BYU to be known for toughness, discipline, and togetherness. One could argue a year ago the Cougars struggled for that trifecta.
There is a lot to learn about this version of Rose’s squad.
But Saturday was a glimpse, and on this night Bryant showed he is indeed back.
It’s a good look.