I like the fact that we got the ball to our big guys and Luke (Worthington) was good all night converting. —BYU coach Dave Rose
PROVO — It took a while for the BYU men's basketball team to figure out visiting Niagara on Tuesday, but, when it did, everything seemed to fall into place. The result was a 95-88 win where the Cougars took control about midway through the second half and then rolled to a relatively easy victory.
The Cougars were led by Elijah Bryant and his team-high 22 points, with Yoeli Childs contributing 21 and TJ Haws another 18. All three players did their best work in the second half due to some more assertive play, among other factors.
“In the first half, we were trying to share the ball, but it was a little stagnant,” Childs said. “We knew we could expose them defensively if we just swung the ball, and gave everybody touches, and pass up good shots for better shots.”
The numbers backed up Childs's assessment.
The Cougars scored 64 points in the second half, after managing not even half that in the first. A lot of the points came from taking it strong to the basket, which led to an overall 28-of-37 team effort from the stripe, after taking just six free throw attempts throughout the first 20 minutes of play. Particularly aggressive were Haws and Bryant, who combined for a 21-of-23 clip from the charity stripe.
"We became much more comfortable with how they were playing us," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "It's an interesting style they have our guys early — we were spending way too much time trying to read it instead of just react to what they were giving us, and I think we were way more aggressive with the ball."
The Cougars also cleaned up some ball-handling issues — committing just four turnovers in the second half as opposed to 10 made in the first.
The second half play didn't start all that well, as the Purple Eagles quickly built their lead to 43-37 before the Cougars put together a 7-0 run to retake the lead at 44-43 with 13:34 left on the clock. They didn't let up from there and forged ahead 65-57, as everything seemed to click suddenly.
A big factor throughout the game was the play of Bryant, who was deemed questionable to even play due to a foot ailment. The junior guard didn't start the game, in favor of Jahshire Hardnett, but did manage 28 minutes of play and started the second half.
"He's one of our captains and one of our most experienced guys, so, enough said," Rose said. "We need him, and we need him on the floor. We'll see how he responds after this game tonight, because it's pretty sore."
BYU's other captain, Luke Worthington, proved efficient from the start — finishing with 11 points on 5-6 shooting from the field, doing almost all of his work around the basket.
"I like the fact that we got the ball to our big guys and Luke was good all night converting," Rose said.
Niagara was led on the night by Matt Scott, who scored a game-high 36 points and proved a big headache for the Cougars to contain, despite switching up several defensive assignments throughout.
With the win, BYU moves to 3-1 on the year and will now travel to take on Alabama and then Massachusetts in Brooklyn, which hosts the Barclays Classic.
LAYDEN HONORED: Legendary Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden was honored at hafltime during Tuesday's game and received a standing ovation from those in attendance. The timing of the honor was due to Layden's early days playing and then coaching the Niagara basketball program, before moving on to coach the Jazz during the 1980s.