BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars return home after earning stripes on the road

December 6, 2017 GMT

Good teams always play well at home, but great teams find a way to get tough victories on the road.

It’s too early in the season to know if the results of the 2017-18 season will be “good” or “great” for the BYU men’s basketball team, but early returns have shown the Cougars are pretty good on the road.

BYU has picked up true road victories at Princeton, Utah Valley and Utah State as well as an exhibition win at New Mexico, which Dave Rose said felt like a league game.

Add in the two-game set in Brooklyn and the Cougars will play their first game in the Marriott Center in more than two weeks when they take on Illinois State on Wednesday.

“We’ve been out of the Marriott Center for quite a while when you consider the fact that we left for Brooklyn on a Wednesday and just got back this weekend,” Rose said. “It feels good to be back practicing in the arena. The four games that we played outside of the Marriott Center have helped us to become a better team. I think we’re a better team than we were against Niagara, which was the last time we played in here. There’s something that is really important about your team and their preparation when you’re really challenged. We’ve felt really challenged.”

The last-second victory against UMass in Brooklyn — which came after what Rose said was probably his team’s poorest half of basketball — seems to have been an early turning point.

“Every win is a big win for us, but that definitely helped us get back on our feet a little bit after a rough first half,” BYU sophomore guard T.J. Haws said. “It helped our team believe a little bit that we can come back from having a rough half and win on the defensive end. It was big for our belief going forward.”

The Cougars also got a big boost when Weber State transfer guard McKay Cannon became eligible to play. In two games, Cannon is shooting 68 percent from the field (6 of 9) and 100 percent from the foul line (10 of 10) with eight assists and two turnovers to go along with 12.5 points per game.

“I’m really happy for him,” Rose said. “McKay had a long summer trying to figure out what his place was going to be on this team, whether he was going to be a practice guy or get in and help. With some of our personnel issues, he started to get excited for an opportunity to play.”

Illinois State won 28 games last year and tied with Wichita State for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title at 17-1. The Redbirds lost to the Shockers in the MVC Tournament final and were selected for the NIT, where they beat UC-Irvine and lost to Central Florida.

It was an offseason of upheaval for the program. Deontae Hawkins (13.8 points per game) and MiKyle McIntosh (12.7) opted to become graduate transfers and took off for Boston College and Oregon, respectively. That left head coach Dan Muller with just one returning starter in 6-foot-9 junior Phil Fayne. But point guard Keyshawn Evans, who averaged 5.7 points per game last season, is the team’s leading scorer at 21.6 points through the first eight games of 2017. Another key addition has been 6-6 junior Milik Yarbrough, who sat out last season after transferring from Saint Louis. Yarbrough averages 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

“Illinois State is very athletic and they are great in transition,” Rose said. “They are in the top 5 percent (in the country) in transition and being able to score the ball and how efficient they are. Conversion defense is going to be huge for us. It’s a team that has really good guards. They average 10 made 3-pointers a game, and Evans is a great point guard who can really run a team and can score.

“Talk about consistency in scouting reports: Over the eight-game schedule, now nine games, they’ve all got a really good point guard who can score. It’ll be another test for us.”