BYU 79, Portland 56
PROVO — Home sweet home.
How much did BYU enjoy being back in the Marriott Center for a game for the first time in 29 days?
It showed from the outset against a struggling Portland team Thursday night.
The Cougars exploded to a 19-point lead early on, allowed the Pilots to narrow the gap by the end of the half, then cruised to a 79-56 victory before a crowd of 10,733.
“First thing, it’s good to be home,” said coach Dave Rose. “The guys came out with a great focus and energy and we played the first 10 minutes maybe as well as we’ve played all year long as far as our execution, our patience, our effort defensively.”
“It’s awesome. It’s been, what, 29 days since we’ve been in here? It’s like a month away,” said guard Zac Seljaas. “We missed our fans. We missed playing in front of our Cougar fans. It’s great to be back.”
“We missed our fans. We missed playing in front of our Cougar fans. It’s great to be back.”
BYU guard Zac Seljaas
Forward Yoeli Childs led the way with a game-high 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds while guard McKay Cannon added a season-high 11 points.
BYU (10-8, 2-1), which was whipped by 22 points at Saint Mary’s last Saturday, took out its frustrations on Portland (7-10, 0-2). The Cougars hit four of their first seven 3-point attempts, went on an 18-0 run and eventually seized a commanding 25-6 advantage at the midway point of the first half.
During that stretch, BYU held the Pilots without a field goal for nearly 11 minutes.
“We worked really hard on defense tonight,” Childs said. “One of the challenges Coach gave us recently is to play hard together. We did a good job of helping each other and be in spots for each other. That’s the only way you can really play good defense.”
Meanwhile, with a spate of fouls being called by officials, Rose gave several young reserve players like Gavin Baxter, Rylan Bergersen and Kolby Lee some playing time. Portland went on its own 18-5 spurt to cut the deficit to 30-22 with four minutes left in the half.
“It’s all about how you fight through adversity,” Childs said of his team’s lead shrinking. “That was the adversity we had to fight through tonight. I think our guys did a good job of keeping their heads up and continuing to play hard.”
The Pilots moved to within 33-30 with one minute left as they knocked down four 3-pointer over the final four minutes of the half.
Then a 3-pointer by Bergersen with three seconds remaining in the half made the score 36-30 for BYU at intermission.
“Rylan’s basket at the end of the first half was really big,” Rose said. “At least it kind of stopped the bleeding and gave us a two-possession lead going into halftime. The second half was very similar to how we played for the first 10 minutes of the game.”
“That was huge,” Childs said of Bergersen’s 3. “A three-point game at halftime is a lot different than a six-point game at halftime, especially with us coming in with the ball. It gave us a little bit of momentum and juice going into the second half. It was a big shot by Ry.”
To open the second half, BYU once again took control of the game by starting out on a 6-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Connor Harding.
Then Childs went to work. He scored 10 straight points to lift the Cougars to a 53-39 advantage with 15 minutes remaining. He had a put-back basket, a jumper and a 3-pointer as part of that spurt.
“You’re watching basically an NBA prospect just right on the court. You’re watching him do all these amazing things” Seljaas said. “Most of all, once he does that, it opens up for everyone else. That’s what’s awesome about Yo. He can go for 10 in a row and they’re going to start playing him to that and he can dish it out and get all of his assists. He’s such a great player that’s so fun to play with. He has an all-around game. It opens the whole floor for everyone.”
BYU extended its lead to as many as 25 points late in the game.
“His presence in the second half … causes some real issues for coaches,” Rose said of Childs. “How are you going to match up? … I like how he played in the second half.”
The Cougars outscored the Pilots 43-26 in the second half.
BYU hosts Santa Clara Saturday.
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