It was just my night tonight. Guys were finding me. —BYU guard Elijah Bryant
PROVO — It took five long years, including the cancellation of last year’s game, but BYU finally ended its losing streak in basketball to arch-rival Utah.
Cougar guard Elijah Bryant poured in a season-high 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds and dished out four assists as BYU defeated the Utes 77-65 before a crowd of 16,272 at the Marriott Center Saturday night.
The Cougars had lost three straight to Utah, with their previous victory coming in December 2012 in Provo.
BYU (9-2) extended its season win streak to six games, and it now leads the all-time series with Utah 130-128.
"Tonight was something special," said BYU forward Payton Dastrup, who came off the bench to score a season-high eight points. "I'm a bleed-blue guy since birth pretty much. To be able to get a chance to experience the rivalry first-hand and play in this game and come through in the clutch in a couple situations was special. I'll never forget this moment."
"For me, I'm not from Utah so I don't feel the big rivalry. I was approaching it like any other game," Bryant said. "This guy (Dastrup) has been raised since he was three to play in this game."
The Cougars led most of the way, with Bryant doing much of the damage. He hit 8 of 13 shots from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Bryant also made all eight of his free-throw attempts.
"It was just my night tonight," Bryant said. "Guys were finding me. I was hot."
Utah was led by Tyler Rawson, who scored 19 points. Gabe Bealer added 13 with David Collette and Sedrick Barefield adding 12 and 11.
The Cougars were grateful for the energetic fans that supported them from start to finish.
"It was a great crowd," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "That was a great college basketball game. Both teams played well. It's two good basketball games. It came down to a few plays here and there."
The Cougars hit 10 of 20 shots from 3-point range.
"The difference was probably the 3-point line," Rose said. "We shot the ball well."
BYU forward Yoeli Childs, who finished with 15 points (hitting 7 of 15 from the floor), had a resounding dunk with 15:30 remaining in the game that gave BYU a 47-37 lead.
On the ensuing sequence on the other side of the court, Childs went down, grabbing his left leg. He had to be helped to the locker room.
Cougar Nation held its collective breath.
Fortunately for BYU, Childs returned with 11:05 remaining and the Cougars nursing a 53-46 advantage. Late in the game, he started limping again, with a leg cramp, and went to the bench for the rest of the contest.
But it was another BYU post player, Dastrup, who provided a spark. During a three-minute stretch, Dastrup scored on a put-back, and he also nailed two 3-pointers, the second of which put the Cougars ahead 63-50 with 8:05 remaining. Dastrup also added some key rebounds.
Bryant led the way for BYU. With 5:33 left, he buried another 3-pointer that made it 67-54.
Every time the Utes tried to chip away at their deficit, the Cougars would come up with another crucial possession, such as Jashire Hardnett’s old-fashioned 3-point play with 3:17 remaining that gave the Cougars a 70-57 lead.
With 1:47 left, Bryant hit two free throws, then recorded a blocked shot against Christian Popoola with 1:37 on the clock.
A layup by Luke Worthington provided BYU with its biggest lead of the game, 76-60, with 52 seconds left.
BYU’s student section chanted “Safety First!” in the waning moments, referring to the purported reason why Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak canceled last year’s contest in Provo.
"This is what it's all about. It's a cool setting," Krystkowiak said. "Like I said you've got to be good to win in a place like this."
The Utes were without forward Donnie Tillman, who has a foot injury.
"No excuses. We got our butts beat, didn't deserve to win and all the credit goes to (BYU). That team's 9-2. They play the game well together," Krystkowiak said. "They share the ball. They've got inside presence. They killed us from the 3-point line, which we talked about all week. They made plays and, you know, they're playing defense. So it's a formidable team that gave us right what we deserved."
As usual, from the outset, this game was intense, physical and chippy.
Both teams shot poorly in the opening minutes before BYU went on a 15-2 run that featured consecutive 3-pointers by Bryant, Zac Seljaas and McKay Cannon to give the Cougars a 23-11 advantage midway through the first half.
"We forced them into shots that got them out of their rhythm," Rose said. "Eli was big in that run."
Utah responded with an 11-4 spurt, highlighted by a Collette dunk and a 3-pointer by Rawson.
Bryant then scored eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, to lift the Cougars to their biggest lead of the half, 35-22, with 3:42 remaining.
Utah managed to cut the deficit to 37-28 at halftime.
The Cougars shot 56 percent (15 of 27) in the first half and knocked down 5 of 10 3-pointers. The Utes were 12 of 27 from the field and 2 of 12 from 3-point territory.
At the half, Bryant (13) and Childs (12) had 25 of BYU’s 38 first-half points.
BYU hosts Idaho State next Thursday while Utah entertains Northwestern State Wednesday.