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BYU Men’s Hoops: Early defense sets tone as BYU men’s basketball wins at Utah State

December 3, 2017 GMT

For years, the BYU men’s basketball team has depended on its ability to get the ball in the basket to win games. While that is entertaining, it often results in losses when the shots aren’t dropping.

But this isn’t that Cougar team anymore, folks.

“It’s my first year at BYU but the stereotypical thought about BYU is that they just play offense,” BYU junior guard McKay Cannon said. “This year, we’ve dug in. If you want to be champions, you’ve got to play defense. We’re trying to build that championship DNA.”

For nearly 13 minutes of the first half of BYU’s game at Utah State Saturday night, the Cougars only managed seven points. Instead of facing a huge deficit, however, BYU was only down by eight points thanks to the defensive intensity.

“We got really good shots in the first half but we were having a hard time making them,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “The thing that stands out to me the most was that we weren’t scoring offensively but we were really guarding and we kept guarding. When we only had five points, we kept it to a 6-, 7-, 8-point game instead of letting them getting really away from us and having to come all the way back. These guys are committed to that end of the floor.”

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Once BYU got the offense going, the Cougars surged in front and, although it wasn’t easy, eventually ended up with the 75-66 win over the Aggies.

“This is one of the best places I’ve ever played,” BYU junior guard Elijah Bryant said. “I love their fans. They are really good and it was fun.”

The Cougars ended up getting 17 points from sophomore forward Yoeli Childs and 17 points from Cannon, while Bryant added 15 and TJ Haws added 10 points.

“That was fun,” Cannon said. “Anytime you come to Logan, it’s going to be a dogfight and that’s what it was. The crowd was obviously very energetic and it was a good team win. I felt like both teams played really well but in the end we came out on top.”

The key stretch was in that early going when the defense kept BYU close. The Cougars had to make some adjustments because Utah State was doubling in the post and BYU was missing outside shots (0-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half).

“Something Coach emphasized was getting to the rim and making them guard us,” Bryant said. “We were kind of letting them off the hook by shooting the 3s and giving them easy rebounds. Once we were able to attack, everything started flowing.”

Cannon — playing in only his second game as a Cougar — facilitated a lot of that when he got into the game.

“At the beginning of the game, I was able to see things on the bench,” Cannon said. “It felt like we were a little antsy, especially about getting the ball to Yoeli in the post and guessing if that double team was coming from the back side. Once we were able to calm down and little bit and let it come to us, we were able to find our shots.”

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Rose explained that going into the post and forcing the Aggies to bring a second defender opened up lanes to the basket.

“When teams are double-teaming, we can’t go away from it,” Rose said. “That can create a real advantage on the other side. It’s not just a shot from the perimeter. On a hard close-out, you can really drive it and cause some problems. In a timeout, we were talking about not shooting the 3-pointer unless it was late in the clock or wide open. We wanted to have some patience and drive the ball.”

BYU closed the first half on a 21-9 run and ended up with a 28-24 lead at the break.

The Cougars extended the advantage to seven points when Eli Bryant drained a 3-pointer to start the second half, the first make from beyond the arc for the visitors.

“You’ve got to hit that first one,” Rose said. “Someone’s got to step up and hit it, and then everyone breathes. We were 5-of-8 in the second half after being 0-for-10 in the first half. When you are having a hard time making 3s, that guy who can jump up and make the first one gives confidence to everyone else.”

The Aggies rallied with nine straight points to retake the lead and it seesawed back until BYU slowly built a cushion in the final 10 minutes.

The Cougars then put the game away with their free-throw shooting, going 24-of-28 from the foul line. Utah State struggled from the stripe, making just 10-of-23.

“We scored a lot at the foul line, especially late,” Rose said. “You get the right guys fouled, you’ve got confidence. You hit a few early and it was a good way to finish that game.”

BYU now prepares to host Illinois State on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.