BYU 95, Utah State 80
PROVO — Maybe it was the dramatic return of Nick Emery. Maybe it was the players-only meeting and intense practices earlier this week. Maybe it was the change in the starting lineup. Or maybe these guys were just tired of losing.
Something got into the BYU Cougars, who jumped all over Utah State early and rolled to a 95-80 victory Wednesday at the Marriott Center, snapping a three-game losing streak.
Guard Zac Seljaas buried a 3-pointer just seconds into the game to give the Cougars a 3-0 advantage, a lead they never relinquished. From the outset, it was clear this was not the same team that lost to Weber State 113-103 last Saturday night in Ogden.
BYU turned the disappointment of that defeat into a demolition of the Aggies. The Cougars led by as many as 22 points, 48-26, in the first half.
“The difference started Monday in practice. We came out with a lot of energy and a lot of effort in practice. We got after it in practice,” said guard TJ Haws, who scored 20 points, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. “This whole week in practice we got after each other. We had a lot of effort and energy and that showed in the game tonight right from tipoff. We came out with passion and a lot of energy. We were ready to go tonight, for sure.”
“How we bounced back this week was big-time," said guard Connor Harding, who scored a career-high 14 points. "We had a different feel to the team. We played with passion. I think that showed tonight.”
Yoeli Childs poured in a game-high 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting while Emery finished with 11, including 3 of 4 from 3 point range.
While BYU (6-4) has struggled shooting from 3-point territory this season, it drilled three 3s before Emery entered the game, making his season debut and playing in his first regular season game since March of 2017, with 13:45 remaining in the first half.
Emery's first appearance prompted a loud roar from the crowd of 11,377. Ten seconds later, Emery knocked down a 3, prompting another loud roar and lifting the Cougars to a 16-9 lead.
A key to BYU’s strong start, too, was coach Dave Rose’s decision to start senior guard McKay Cannon in place of Dalton Nixon. Cannon’s assignment was to defend USU star Sam Merrill, who entered the game averaging 21.3 points per game.
“It was all to try to slow down Sam Merrill,” Rose said.
During practice this week, BYU guard Jesse Wade, the Gonzaga transfer who is redshirting this season, played the role of Merrill on the scout team. Cannon impressed coaches with the way he defended.
“We didn’t want to give up anything tonight. McKay was great in practice this week, guarding Jesse,” Haws said. “He got after it. He had a lot of energy. He did a great job on Sam and got him out of his rhythm early. That was huge for us.”
Utah State (7-2) trailed 53-34 at halftime but cut the deficit to 58-46 with 15:30 left in the game. But BYU withstood the Aggie run.
On the night, the Cougars held USU to 3 of 17 from the 3-point line while they hit a season-high 11 3s. BYU was 11 of 24 from 3-point range.
“If we can shoot 11 for 24 every night, I’d take it,” Rose said.
Wednesday’s performance showed what the Cougars can do when they make 3s.
“We have to open up the floor for Yoeli and TJ. They make a lot of plays and a lot of people focus on them,” said Harding, who hit 5 of 6 shots from the field. “If we can do our part and hit a couple of shots, then our team is really good. I couldn’t hit those shots without TJ coming off the screen or Nick coming off the screen. That changed the game. If we hit just a couple of 3s and we get in the flow of things and we get on a run, we’re pretty good.”
The Cougars have now won seven in a row against the Aggies.
USU was led by Merrill's 17 points. Neemias Queta scored 16 and Dwayne Brown added 15.
Rose was impressed by the resolve his team showed.18 comments on this story
“As a coach, when you get in tough spots and you challenge your guys, you see which direction they’re going to go," he said. "If you challenge them and then they take it on themselves and try to fix it or if you challenge them and they rely on each other. That’s the part of this that I’m really impressed with — Connor diving for a ball, TJ diving for a ball, and the other all guys right there, ready to pick them up. Those are plays that are contagious. The emotion of those plays are what teams need.”
BYU takes on Utah Saturday at noon at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the Beehive Classic.