PROVO — Gavin Baxter has been trending upward in recent weeks, both in minutes played and subsequent production. On Saturday, in his first career start at the collegiate level, the true freshman continued his trend, and just about hit the roof, leading the BYU men's basketball team to an impressive 67-49 win over visiting Loyola Marymount.
The Timpview product led all scorers with 25 points, providing several of those points by means of thunderous dunks off high lob passes inside and even by hitting both of his 3-point attempts. He also contributed 10 rebounds and two blocked shots while performing about as well as could be imagined in just about every facet.
“It was my first career start and I don’t know if it could have gone any better,” Baxter said. “It’s just a bunch of hard work paying off, so it was fun.”
Baxter was central to the Cougars' overall production for most of the game's 40 minutes and was on point from the opening tip. Whether it was part of the game plan or something that just seemed to happen, penetrating guards seemed intent on throwing it up to the 6-foot-9 forward with an over 7-foot wingspan with good production coming as a result on most occasions.
“It was just something that happened,” Baxter said. “We just had the guards drive it and…that’s just how the game went, so it worked really well.”
Late in the game the crowd focused a lot of their cheers toward Baxter, chanting his name over and over and even offering chants of 'MVP!', all of which the former Timpview star noticed and was a little overwhelmed by.
“It was awesome. Growing up here I always wanted to play for BYU,” Baxter said. “So to get my first career start and having the fans like that was awesome. I don’t think you could have scripted it any better than it happened.”
What didn't go as scripted for the Cougars was a sloggy first half where the Lions dictated the pace, leading to a 26-23 deficit at the break. The Cougars couldn't get any type of rhythm and bricked on their first eight 3-point attempts, with several of those coming from open looks.
“In the first half their pace really affected us and we played more at their pace,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “We had a hard time making shots, and then we just found a way to really get the game going the way we needed it to, and not in our normal fashion.”
Words were poignant at halftime, and perhaps delivered a bit louder than normal by the coaches, at least according to BYU guard McKay Cannon.
“He felt we were fortunate to only be down three, so all the coaches really let us have it,” Cannon said. “So we came out with energy and I think they’re happy now.”
Happy indeed. The Cougars came out of the second half firing on all cylinders to pull ahead 33-32 before managing an 18-0 run that was the defining minutes of the game, with BYU pushing the lead to 51-32 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Baxter was again central to the big run, scoring eight of the Cougars' 18 points in the stretch, perhaps leaving even greater wonder to observers why it's taken 24 games played in the season for the exciting freshman to warrant big minutes.
“Everybody wants to start and I wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with the decision and we’ve talked about it two or three different times during the year, and tonight was right,” Rose said. “He really responded in a positive manner. He was tremendous and at times it looked as if he was playing on a nine-foot basket.”37 comments on this story
Another big contribution came from Nick Emery, who scored a season-high 17 points, with Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws only scoring six and nine points, respectively.
According to Rose, BYU playing so well with both Childs and Haws off their regular games is a very positive sign moving foward. “That 20 minutes in the second half may have been as good as we’ve played maybe all year long," he said.
With the win BYU improves to 14-10 on the year and 6-3 in West Coast Conference play. Next up for the Cougars is a game at Portland next Thursday.