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Scott G Winterton,
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Dave Rose gives Brigham Young Cougars forward Dalton Nixon (33) a high five at a timeout as BYU and Illinois State play in an NCAA men's basketball game in Provo on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
It’s a real learning period for your team of growth, trying to not let a big half get away from you in the second half. —Dave Rose

BYU 80, Illinois State 68

PROVO — At halftime Wednesday night at the Marriott Center, BYU held a commanding, and surprising, 22-point lead against Illinois State.

The Redbirds missed all 15 3-point attempts and were shooting 23 percent overall (7 of 30) from the floor in the first half.

But ISU turned things around in the second half, whittling away at a 28-point deficit while shooting 65 percent from the floor, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range.

In the end, the Cougars were able to hold on for an 80-68 victory before a crowd of 12,250.

“In the second half, they came out with a whole different mindset and played a lot more man-to-man defense. They hit a couple of 3’s,” coach Dave Rose said of ISU. “They average 10 3’s a game. You knew you weren’t going to keep them to zero makes in the second half. We got a little bit impatient as the second half went on offensively. Defensively, once they start hitting 3’s, you put pressure and it opens the floor and they used their athleticism and quickness. They outplayed us in the second half … From the 16-minute mark on, they had the momentum most of the time and we were just trying to hang on."

BYU guard TJ Haws scored a season-high 20 points, Elijah Bryant fell just short of a triple-double (17 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists to go along with 3 steals) and Yoeli Childs contributed 17 points and seven boards.

After an awful start, Illinois State turned things around and scored 51 second-half points.

“I felt like in the first half we were defending as a team,” Haws said. “In the second half, we kind of went away from that. But give credit to Illinois State. They’re a great shooting team. We definitely could have done a lot better in the second half.”

“We’ve got to be able to put two halves together,” Bryant said.

Maybe the Cougars were due for a bit of a letdown at some point after the past two weeks during which they rallied from a second-half deficit to beat UMass, followed by intense in-state victories at Utah Valley and at Utah State.

“That game (against Illinois State), in the position on the calendar where it was, not only because of the opponent but in the middle of these in-state games, it was a real challenge for our guys,” Rose said. “Emotionally, we responded to the challenge really well. Physically, we responded to the challenge really well.”

With the win, BYU improved to 7-2 while ISU fell to 4-5.

The Cougars raced out to a 7-0 lead and extended it to 28-7 thanks in part to a 15-2 run.

The Redbirds started the game shooting 3 of 21 from the field.

BYU, which drilled six 3-pointers in the first half against the Redbirds’ zone defense, was staked to a 39-17 advantage at intermission.

“It was good that I felt like we got open looks in the first half,” said Haws, who scored 15 first-half points. “Everyone was helping and making the extra pass. Everyone was getting good looks and guys were finding me for open looks.”

Rose liked the way his team played on the offensive and defensive end in the first half.

“We got multiple stops back-to-back-to-back, which is a big goal for our team,” he said. “After missing some open shots, we started to feel comfortable in the zone and we shared the ball really well.”

In the second half, Illinois State changed to a man-to-man defense and BYU went 1 of 9 from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Redbirds started hitting shots. Taylor Bruninga came off the bench and drilled five 3-pointers in the half and finished with 20 points. Phil Fayne scored 19 points and Keyshawn Evans chipped in 14.

“It’s a real learning period for your team of growth, trying to not let a big half get away from you in the second half,” Rose said.

BYU takes on Weber State Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.