BYU basketball plays how it prepared, rolls past Miss Valley State
The season-opener for any college basketball team has an element of mystery.
When a team has as many shuffling pieces as BYU has had heading into the 2017-18 season, the unknowns are even greater.
The Cougars, however, had no doubt about what they are capable of.
BYU proved it in Saturday’s game at the Marriott Center against visiting Mississippi Valley State, using a 27-4 run midway through the first half to open up a double-digit advantage. The Cougars led by as many as 41 points before cruising to the 91-61 win over the Delta Devils.
“You always want to get that first win,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “It’s important for your team and your confidence. But the way you get that win, I think for this group will really help us. We did that the way that we practiced for the last six months. We did that by sharing the ball, by making the right play, by a real defensive mindset and we rebounded the ball pretty good. Those are all things that are really important to us. Sometimes you win these games and it’s just a matter of you being able to score more points than the other team, but I think tonight we did a lot more than that.”
Leading the way was a brilliant showing by junior guard Elijah Bryant, who poured in 27 points in just 27 minutes of play, shooting 10-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 from 3-point territory.
“Tonight Elijah was near-perfect in his offensive execution,” Rose said. “He was good. He was patient, had great pace, attacked the spots when it was time and shared the ball really well. He had a great line.”
Bryant credited the offensive ball movement for getting him good looks.
“That’s just the offense,” Bryant said. “Whoever’s night it is, guys are just going to keep on finding them. Tonight was my night. Guys kept finding me, and I was able to hit shots.”
The Cougars never trailed in the contest but a quick six-point run by MVSU made the score 18-16 with 9:52 left in the first half.
But Bryant scored 12 of BYU’s points during the 27-4 push, including knocking down three 3-pointers.
Rose also liked the defensive intensity the Cougars had during that stretch and for most of the game.
“We gave them one shot, then got the miss and were able to take off and go,” Rose said. “Our game plan was to make them take the shots they were making early. We did a good job of staying with that and it got tougher and tougher for them to make them.”
BYU sophomore forward Yoeli Childs set a career-high with five blocked shots — all of which came in the second half — to go with his 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Two other Cougars finished in double figures as sophomore TJ Haws scored 14 points and sophomore Zac Seljaas added 11 points.
BYU also got a shot of adrenaline as sophomore Dalton Nixon came off the bench to score eight points, grab six rebounds and aggressively go after every loose ball.
“The thing I like about Dalt (Nixon) is that he makes the right play,” Rose said. “He’s a guy who really wants to play. He’s in the gym all the time and he’s really worked on his game. You are going to get 100 percent effort from Dalt.”
Nixon said he’s just trying to make the most of his time on the court and do anything he can to help the team win.
“I feel like I can produce some good energy off the bench,” Nixon said. “I can provide a spark on defense and then be sound on offense to make plays, to get the ball side to side and find the open guys.”
While the final numbers were important for a team getting its season started, this particular game had added significance for the Cougars because of the emotional impact of having junior Nick Emery leave the team and withdraw from school.
“Distractions come in all shapes, all forms, all sizes,” Rose said. “This is one that is extremely personal to our guys because they lost a good friend, not just a teammate. We’ve been dealing with this for quite a long time. This is not how anyone wanted it to turn out, but now we have to put it behind us and move forward.”
Bryant, who is a team captain, said the BYU players just want Emery to be able to find himself.
“This is bigger than basketball,” Bryant said. “We always have his back but as a team it is now time to move on and have the next guy step up.”
The Cougars now get ready for a cross-country trip as BYU heads east to play at Princeton on Wednesday.