AP
Mississippi State guard Tyson Carter (23) shoots over the defense of Brigham Young guard TJ Haws (30) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

PROVO — Finally, road-weary BYU is returning home.

The Cougars, who fell 88-66 at Saint Mary’s last Saturday, will play at the Marriott Center for the first time in nearly a month Thursday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) when they host Portland.

BYU last played at home on Dec. 12 against Portland State. That was followed by three consecutive losses and the Cougars’ first road win of the season at Pacific last Thursday.

“We’re stoked. We’re so excited to come back and play in front of our fans,” said forward Yoeli Childs, who scored 21 points and pulled down 12 rebounds against the Gaels. “Five games in a row in a hostile environment is pretty tough. We’re pretty excited to come back and get a game in Provo.”

Yet, as coach Dave Rose pointed out, simply being home won’t cure all that ails his team right now.

“The home crowd’s not going to fix the issues that we have. We’ve got issues,” he said. “Trying to play a consistent 40 minutes with energy and execution and focus, hopefully we can get some good practices in and find out what we can do and play together.”

BYU (9-8, 1-1) was out-shot, out-rebounded and out-executed against Saint Mary’s in its most lopsided loss ever in Moraga.

“This game is not made to play for a month or so without getting energy from your home crowd and playing at home,” Rose said “It seems to be pretty late in the season for me to still be trying to figure out who to play. I feel bad about that. At the end of the first half, it seems like we play the first 10, 12, 15 minutes sometimes and then we go on a lull. It happened at UNLV and San Diego State and Mississippi State and it happened here (Saturday). I’ve got lineups in there of guys that I’m trying to find minutes for and find some consistent play. Probably not fair to the guys who are playing a lot and not fair to the guys who aren’t playing much. Then we get behind and we’re trying to play from behind.”

Saint Mary’s shot 55 percent from the floor while BYU shot 41 percent. The Gaels scored 16 points off the Cougars’ 13 turnovers and outscored BYU in the paint, 44-22.

How does Rose assess his team’s defensive effort?

"It suffers when we are not very good offensively. That has to change. This team has a real tendency to get down and then we have a lot of breakdowns on the defensive end,” he said. “When we go through offensive lulls, we still have to be able to play with energy and effort, and a concentrated effort, and focus."

Childs tried to explain went wrong for his team Saturday.

“How much time do you have? Seriously. We didn’t guard the 3-point line well, too many turnovers that led to transition buckets," he said. "Saint Mary’s does a great job inside … as you go to the rim. We should have been tougher and finished more of those. I was atrocious in the first half, wasn’t aggressive enough. Did you see anything we did well tonight? That sums it up.”

A lot can be learned from recent struggles, Childs said.

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“The biggest thing is, we’ve always got to look in the mirror and see what we can bring. It’s been pretty intense in practice. But we need to do more stuff individually to get better as players. If I’m in the gym making 500 shots, I need to come in and make 700 shots. It’s just something where we’re not good enough right now. We’ve got to work a little bit harder and everybody’s got to get a little bit better and we can get where we need to be.”

Guard Connor Harding said his team’s confidence hasn’t suffered despite the recent setbacks.

“It’s just a learning process, for sure. We’ve just got to learn from it. We’ve got to learn from it and move on and make adjustments and changes so that we can come out better,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to the energy and the fans. It’s going to be good to play at home.”