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BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougar defense steps up in win at Princeton

November 16, 2017 GMT

Wednesday’s game at Princeton was the sort of game BYU lost badly last year.

A slow pace, so every possession takes on greater meaning. Lots and lots of minutes spent on defense.

The Cougars played great defense against the patient Princeton offense, surviving a 10-minute stretch without a basket in a wild second half in a 65-56 victory against the Tigers in Jadwin Gymnasium.

A “grinder” by every definition of the word.

“This was not our best offensive night,” BYU coach Dave Rose said during his post-game radio appearance. “We did get to the free throw line. That’s one thing we did really well and we converted when we got there. We did a really good job on the defensive end. We’ve made a real commitment to that and these guys understand the importance of executing the game plan and doing that to the end.”

In a close game that produced 11 ties and 17 lead changes, BYU made a huge 10-0 run late in the second half to gain control.

Princeton took a 43-42 lead on a drive by Myles Stephens at the eight-minute mark, but the Cougars scored ten straight points during a sequence where Tigers coach Mitch Henderson picked up a pair of technical fouls and was ejected from the game. Zac Seljaas drained a 3-pointer and Elijah Bryant scored seven points in that stretch, including all four technical free throws, for a 52-43 lead with 6:39 to play.

Princeton rallied and 3-pointer from Ryan Schweiger with 2:56 to go brought the home team within two at 56-54, but BYU closed the game strong. Haws made three free throws, Yoeli Childs made a short jumper and after Dalton Nixon drew a charge, Bryant scored on a drive for a 63-54 lead with 1:06 to play.

“We really had to grind it out there in the end,” Rose said. “They got it to two and it could go either way. Our guys made some plays and toughed it out.”

Bryant led BYU (2-0) with 22 points – including 9 of 10 from the foul line -- seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. He also had the Cougars’ single offensive rebound. Childs -- who was double teamed nearly every time he touched the ball -- had just one basket but finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Seljaas had 11 points and T.J. Haws 10 for BYU. The Cougars were 93 percent (25-27) from the foul line and made their final 17. BYU held Princeton to 38 percent (20 of 53) from the field and 37 percent (7 of 19) from the 3-point line.

“It was a really intense game, especially down the stretch,” Nixon said. “It showed us how we needed to win the game on the defensive end. If felt so intense because every possession on defense was so critical for us. We were able to execute down the stretch and get the win.”

Princeton (0-2) outrebounded BYU 36-23 overall and 14 to 1 in offensive rebounds. The Tigers got 19 points from Cannady and 10 from Myles Stephens. Princeton was just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second half after making 5 of 10 in the first 20 minutes.

Amir Bell, who scored 22 points in Sunday’s loss at Butler, was held to two points on 1 of 9 from the field.

The game was tied at 29 at halftime but early in the second half, BYU scored eight straight points on 3-pointers by Haws and Seljaas and a drive by Bryant for a 39-34 lead with 17:07 to go. But the Cougars would go nearly ten minutes without a basket as both teams knuckled down defensively, setting up the final push.

BYU returns home to host UT-Arlington on Saturday at the Marriott Center. Last year, the Mavericks came to Provo and dumped the Cougars 105-89 in the first round of the NIT.