T.J. Haws hit the game winning three pointer with 39 seconds left, as the BYU Cougars overcame an 18-point first half deficit to defeat the Loyola Marymount Lions 81-76 on the road at Gersten Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Haws and Emery led the Cougars in scoring with 20 points each, and the two players combined for 9 three pointers. Yoeli Childs continued to show variety in his offensive game and an ability to crash the offensive boards, and finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds. Eric Mika struggled to finish around the basket for most of the night, but still finished with 17 points on 4/17 shooting to go with a team-high 9 rebounds.
Everything that could have gone wrong in the first half did. Mika had his worst offensive performance of the season by far, scoring just 2 points on 1/9 shooting in the opening 20 minutes. He looked uncharacteristically overwhelmed by LMU’s length and athleticism, and had a number of his attempts blocked around the rim. There were also several areas of concern from BYU’s defensive performance. Switching on ball screens between guards and big men resulted in easy dribble penetration for LMU. The Cougars showed a lack of hustle by giving up 9 offensive rebounds in the first half, and poor post defense from Mika, Payton Dastrup, and Braiden Shaw led to a lot of easy baskets around the rim for the Lions. The ability of LMU’s big men to pass the ball was very impressive. Defensive rotations were often slow, as the Lions hit 4 out of their first 5 three pointers.
While LMU led by as many as 18 points in the first half, a Davin Guinn layup at the buzzer cut the Lions’ lead to 47-34 heading into the locker room. Eric Mika found his way to the free throw line on numerous occasions, as BYU cut the Lions’ lead to 8 points with 7:47 left in the game. They were unable to get any closer in the beginning of the second half because they could not put together multiple stops on the defensive end. LMU did shoot unusually well from beyond the arc for the first 30 minutes of the game, but the Cougars suffered from a lack of communication on defense far too often. A T.J. Haws three pointer cut the LMU lead to 3 points with 6:54 remaining, but a tip-in from LMU’s Trevor Manuel brought the lead back to 5. When Mika hit a couple free throws to cut the LMU lead to 3 again, Manuel snuck back door for an alley-oop dunk to answer.
When the Lions were up 76-70, BYU got back-to-back three pointers from Emery and Haws to even the game with 1:51 remaining. Haws then made a great cut to hit the go-ahead three pointer from the left wing to give the Cougars a 79-76 lead with 39 seconds remaining. Yoeli Childs then made a great defensive play by blocking Loyola Marymount’s game tying three point attempt and then tapping the ball to L.J. Rose, who got fouled with 6 seconds remaining. Rose hit both free throws to ice the game, and BYU walked out of Gersten Pavilion with an 81-76 victory.
It was great to see TJ Haws come alive in the second half, and while the defense did improve over the final ten minutes, the bench production remains a concern. Steven Beo and Jamal Aytes both had fantastic games in the win over Santa Clara, but they combined to score zero points today. BYU only got 5 total bench points, which is a major problem when Eric Mika is struggling the way he did for most of this game. It is very evident how much BYU misses the injured Kyle Davis and Elijah Bryant, two players who can regularly score in double figures when healthy.
It was also a good sign to see BYU bounce back from a lackluster first half where it appeared as though LMU just wanted every loose ball more. If the Cougars want to contend for a West Coast Conference, it is imperative to avoid non-Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s losses, which makes this an important comeback victory. The Cougars will return to action for a huge game on Thursday night at #19 Saint Mary’s.