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BYU men’s basketball gets connected in rout of Utah State

December 6, 2018

If Wednesday night in the Marriott Center was an example of BYU being “connected,” watch out.

The Cougars scored a decisive 95-80 victory against Utah State in front of 11,377 strong that had a lot to cheer about right from the opening tip. Following three straight losses, BYU coach Dave Rose said he wanted to see his players more connected on both ends of the floor.

If “connected” means energy and selflessness on defense and multiple players contributing on offense, then mission accomplished.

“As a coach, when your team gets in a tough spot, you challenge your guys and see which direction they go in,” Rose said. “When they’re challenged, they either try to do everything themselves or they start to rely on each other. That’s the part (of tonight) that I was really impressed with.

“Connor (Harding) was diving for a ball, T.J. (Haws) was diving for a ball and the other guys were right there ready to pick them up. Those kinds of plays are contagious. The emotions of those plays, that’s what teams need. It’s a game of runs and about who can get the advantage emotionally. I thought we had it most of the time tonight.”

Yoeli Childs scored more than 30 points for the second straight game, finishing with 31 that included 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Haws added 20 points on 4-of-6 from the 3-point line. For the first time this season, five Cougars reached double figures and BYU shot 56 percent from the field.

The Cougars (6-4) led by as many as 22 points in the first half. Zac Seljaas hit the game’s first shot — the first time BYU made its opening 3-point attempt this season — and the home team was off and running. Junior Nick Emery checked into the game at the 13:46 mark for his first appearance of the season and took less than 20 seconds to score his first basket in a year and a half — a 3-pointer, naturally. In nearly seven minutes, Emery made a pair of 3-pointers, assisted on two baskets and picked up a steal.

Harding came off the bench and scored eight points in three minutes as the BYU lead kept growing. His second 3-pointer pushed the Cougar advantage to 17, 33-16, with 9:05 to play in the first half.

BYU’s biggest lead was 48-26 on a Haws pull-up jumper with 3:43 to go. The Cougars took a 54-34 lead into the halftime break.

BYU shot 58 percent (19-of-33) from the field and 7-of-13 (54 percent) from the 3-point line in the first half.

“The difference started on Monday in practice,” Haws said. “I thought we came out with a lot of energy and effort in practice and got after each other. 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.”

Utah State (7-2) outscored BYU 46-42 in the second half, but never got the lead below double digits. Childs continued to find his way to the basket and scored 17 in the second half.

Senior McKay Cannon started for the Cougars and was a key factor in slowing down Aggies star Sam Merrill, who came into the game averaging 21 points per game. Merrill finished with 17 but had only four in the first half as Cannon, Harding and Emery harassed him on the perimeter. Merrill was just 5-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 from the 3-point line.

“The first thing that comes to mind (being connected) is defense,” Haws said. “I feel like for us to be a really good team we have to be connected on defense. We have to guard the ball for 30 seconds. We’re going to play against a lot of great players and we have to be able to guard those guys with five players and be connected at all times.”

Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade, who is sitting out this season, played the role of Merrill in practice.

“We didn’t want to give up anything tonight,” Haws said. “McKay was great in practice this week guarding Jesse. He really got after it. On every possession, he had a lot of energy. I thought he did a great job on Sam and got him out of rhythm early.”

Harding scored a career-high 14 points for BYU while Emery (11) and Jahshire Hardnett (10) also hit double figures. The Cougars made 11-of-24 from the 3-point line, had 11 steals and 17 assists.

BYU will face rival Utah at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday afternoon as part of the Beehive Classic.

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