The ball in Eli’s hands is always a good thing for us down the stretch. He’s the guy that we all trust to make the play. —BYU forward Dalton Nixon on Elijah Bryant
MALIBU, Calif, — For the first time in five years, BYU defeated Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse Thursday night.
But it certainly wasn’t easy — the Cougars needed overtime to tame the Waves, who sit in last place in the West Coast Conference and have an RPI of 333.
It was BYU guard Elijah Bryant who seemed to will the Cougars to the 75-70 victory, scoring nine of their 11 points in the overtime period. Bryant finished with a game-high 25 points and added eight rebounds.
“The ball in Eli’s hands is always a good thing for us down the stretch,” said forward Dalton Nixon. “He’s the guy that we all trust to make the play, whether that’s to take it to the rim like he did tonight or to find the open guy. He always executes, and we rely heavily upon him down the stretch.”
Bryant had an opportunity to potentially win the game for the Cougars at the end of regulation, but he missed a free throw with 16.7 seconds remaining. His second of two free-throw attempts was off the mark and Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross scored a layup with eight seconds left to tie the game at 64 and force OT.
“That’s basketball. You make some and you miss some,” Bryant said. “Having a can-do mindset, focusing on the next play, staying humble, you’re going to miss some shots. You’re not going to make them all.”
In overtime, Bryant took over.
“I think my team was looking for someone to step up and I was able to do that tonight,” Bryant said. “The guys put me in positions to excel tonight. Yoeli (Childs) was setting great screens and TJ (Haws) was making great passes and I was able to make some shots and we got the win.”
Bryant drove to the hoop and scored with 12.8 seconds left to give BYU a 73-70 lead with 10.5 seconds remaining, then he drilled a pair of free throws with two seconds left to seal the victory.
“The matchup was best for us. The way they were playing him gave him an opportunity to make plays at the rim,” coach Dave Rose said of Bryant. “He’s really strong with the ball. That’s probably the key."
Childs finished with 18 points and gave the Cougars a big scare early in overtime, when he went down to the floor while battling for a loose ball. Writhing in pain, Childs clutched his knee. He left the court but returned moments later.
“He kind of twisted his knee when he came down awkwardly,” said Rose. “I went out to talk to him and he told me, ‘I think I’ll be all right.’ We had him run around outside for a minute and he came back in.”
With the win, BYU improved to 21-7 overall and 10-5 in the WCC while Pepperdine fell to 4-23 and 1-14.
For the Cougars, it marked their second straight overtime win after squeaking past San Francisco at home last Saturday.
Earlier this week, Pepperdine announced that coach Marty Wilson would be relieved of his duties at the end of the season after seven years at the helm. And the inspired Waves certainly played hard.
“With the news of their coach, if the same thing happened to our coach, we’d play with tons of emotion,” Bryant said. “Credit to them, they played really well tonight. They had a chance to win down the stretch.”
“They were playing really loose, I know that. They made some big shots,” Rose said. “They executed their stuff really well. I really feel for Marty because he’s been in a lot of games like this during the year. Most of them ended up this way. His guys are playing really hard for him. He’s not only a great guy but he’s also a good coach. He’ll end up on his feet somewhere.”
It was BYU’s first triumph at Pepperdine since 2013, when Matt Carlino buried a game-winning 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds remaining.
Why is it that the Cougars have struggled so much at Firestone Fieldhouse?
“I don’t know what it is,” Nixon said. “My freshman year, we lost to them here. I think they play hard and it feels good to get a win here. Pepperdine played really loose tonight and shot the ball really well.”
The Waves had four player score in double figures — Trae Berhow (12), Ross (11), Kameron Edwards (10) and Darnell Dunn (10).
“It was a hard-fought game,” Nixon said. “We’re all just happy that we found a way to pull it out. We played hard the whole game. We did enough to come out with a ‘W.’”
BYU visits San Diego Saturday.