Man, it was crazy. I'm still kind of shook right now. It was weird emotions because I battled with those guys at Weber State for two years. I still love those guys. —McKay Cannon
SALT LAKE CITY — It was a good, old-fashioned cat fight at Vivint Arena in the inaugural Beehive Classic between BYU and Weber State Saturday night.
Yes, the fur was flying between the Cougars and the Wildcats — and we’re not just talking about BYU guard Zac Seljaas’ flowing Mohawk hairstyle.
BYU struggled to hold off shorthanded WSU, which was missing two starters, and had a tough time defending guard Jerrick Harding, who finished with a game-high 29 points.
But BYU guard TJ Haws, who finished with a season-high 24 points, drilled four pressure-packed free throws in the final 20 seconds to propel the Cougars to a 74-68 victory before a crowd of 7,729.
On top of all that, Cougar guard and Weber State transfer McKay Cannon was facing his former team.
“Man, it was crazy. I’m still kind of shook right now. It was weird emotions because I battled with those guys at Weber State for two years. I still love those guys,” Cannon said. “It was battling those emotions because I want to beat them but I also respect them. I knew they were going to come out firing, and that’s exactly what happened. Luckily I have great teammates. We stuck it out and were able to get the win.”
The Wildcats had the ball, trailing 68-66 with 53 seconds remaining, when BYU’s Yoeli Childs blocked Dusty Baker’s shot in the paint. Cougar guard Elijah Bryant rebounded the ball and was fouled. Bryant made both free throws with 25 seconds left.
Harding nailed two attempts from the charity stripe on Weber State’s next possession. Haws was fouled twice after the Cougars stopped the Wildcats and he sealed the victory at the foul line.
“We talk a lot about having poise and getting stops,” Haws said of his team’s finish. “We got a couple stops at the end. That’s what wins basketball games, for sure.”
With the victory, BYU (8-2) won its 12th consecutive game at Vivint Arena, its 15th straight over Weber State and its fifth victory in a row overall.
Cannon, who scored six points on a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, wasn’t surprised by Weber State’s resolve.
“Being with them for two years, I knew how good they could be. I’m just excited to leave my imprint on the game,” he said. “When you’re down two people, you fight for your lives. They were able to execute. Each possession was very valuable to them. That’s why the game was so close. It was kind of an ugly game, but we were able to come out on top.”
BYU coach Dave Rose was also impressed with the way Weber State battled.
“It was a great game. It was back-and-forth. Both teams executed well. You see it every night in the NBA where shorthanded teams beat really good teams," he said. "It’s hard to sustain that over a long period of time. But the emotions of other guys who get the chance when frontline guys are hurt. You saw that tonight. They played great.”
To adjust to being without two starters, forward Brekkott Chapman and center Zach Braxton, the Wildcats went small, playing with four guards.
“It made it hard for us to play with two bigs,” Rose said. “We haven’t played that lineup very much. It was kind of unorthodox.”
Harding hit 12 of 20 shots from the field.
“We need to be better than that,” Rose said of his team’s defensive effort. “(WSU) did a great job of spreading us out. Harding had a chance to show all of his skills. He made a lot of tough shots at the rim. He gave them some confidence and a lot of belief.”
While WSU was down two starters, BYU played without one of its top players off the bench, Dalton Nixon, who is dealing with a foot injury.
“Not having Dalton hurts us because he’s a versatile defender for us,” Rose said.
The Cougars shot 53 percent from the field and knocked down 10 3-pointers. Weber State was 6 of 24 from 3-point range.
Leading 40-32 early in the second half, BYU watched Weber State go on a 9-0 run to jump ahead 41-40.
Bryant and Haws hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Cougars back on top, 46-41. That was part of a 12-3 run that saw BYU seize a 52-44 advantage. But Weber State, once again, whittled that deficit down and pushed the Cougars until the final seconds.
BYU hosts arch-rival Utah next Saturday.