December 6, 2017
Fans checking in at the Marriott Center on Wednesday evening got two games for the price of one.
Wait, it’s not all good news.
The BYU men’s basketball team ran out to a huge lead against Illinois State then surrendered 51 second-half points in an 80-68 victory.
So which is the real BYU team?
On Wednesday it was both, which shows simultaneously the Cougars’ potential along with a lot of room for growth.
“In the first half we really defended well as a team,” BYU sophomore guard T.J. Haws said. “In the second half we went way from that. Give Illinois State credit, they are a great shooting team, but we definitely could have done better in the second half.”
Haws broke out of a shooting slump and scored 20 points with four 3-pointers. Elijah Bryant flirted with a “Collinsworth” — uh, a triple double with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and Yoeli Childs also counted 17 points. But the Cougars, who led 42-17 at the half and by as many as 28 early in the second, forgot to play defense in the second as the Redbirds scorched the nets at a 65-percent clip (20 of 31). Illinois State missed all 15 first-half 3-pointers, but connected on 7 of 9 in the second.
“We came out really determined,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “On defense we got multiple stops back-to-back-to-back and we started to feel pretty comfortable against their zone. We shared the ball really well. Then they (Illinois State) came out with a whole different mindset in the second half. They average 10 3-pointers a game so we knew we were not going to keep them to zero.
“We got a little bit impatient on offense in the second half and they were spreading us out and driving us, using their speed and athleticism. They outplayed us in the second half. But it was a good win. It was a tough challenge. That’s a good team and they’re going to win a lot of games.”
In the first half it appeared Illinois State had just taken up shooting a basketball. The Redbirds were a dreadful 23 percent (7 of 30) from the field and a dismal 0-for-15 from the 3-point line with three of those heaves failing to even hit the rim. Meanwhile, BYU patiently took apart the Redbird zone. While the Cougars didn’t make every open shot — and there were plenty — they did finish with six 3-pointers (three each for Haws and Bryant) and shot 50 percent from the field in the first half.
Leading 11-4 at the 13:48 mark, the Cougars erupted on a 17-1 run, forcing numerous turnovers and collecting all of Illinois State’s ill-advised shots. Bryant knocked down consecutive 3-pointers for a 28-7 BYU lead with 6:43 to play in the half. Haws hit a short jumper and Luke Worthington drained a couple of late free throws for a 39-17 halftime lead.
Haws led BYU in the first half with 15 points and Bryant contributed nine points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Illinois State transformed into an actual basketball team in the second half and started to close the gap after falling behind by 28 points, 46-18, on a Jahshire Hardnett drive with 17:35 to play. Backup center Taylor Bruninga went insane from the 3-point line, making three in a row including a four-point play. The Redbirds managed to trim the BYU lead to 13, 73-60, with 5:25 to play but that was as close as they could get, except for the final score.
Bruninga finished with 20 points, making 5 of 6 from the 3-point line in the second half. Phil Fayne added 19 for the Redbirds (4-5), who finished 7 of 24 (29 percent) from beyond the arc.
We started the (second) half fine, but from about the 16-minute mark on they had the momentum most of the time and we were just trying to hang on,” Rose said. “This is a real learning period for your team, a time of growth. It’s hard not to let a big half get away from you. I think our guys will learn from it. We’ll watch film and see the adjustments they made we didn’t respond to very well.”
The Cougars (7-2) had seven steals — three from Bryant — and shot 15 of 19 (79 percent) on 2-point shots in the second half.
BYU will take on Weber State at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The Wildcats got creamed at Utah Valley on Wednesday, 83-56.