Elijah Bryant scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half as BYU overcame a three point halftime deficit to defeat the Niagara Purple Eagles by a score of 95-88 at the Marriott Center on Tuesday night. Yoeli Childs added 21 points on 10/17 shooting, while T.J. Haws and Luke Worthington rounded out the Cougar double-figure scorers with 18 and 11 points, respectively. Haws and Bryant combined to shoot an impressive 21/23 at the foul line in the victory. The Cougars had no answer for Niagara’s Matt Scott, who finished with a career high 36 points on 13/24 shooting.
BYU jumped out to an 11-4 lead behind a three pointer from Haws and a couple of buckets by Jahshire Hardnett, who started in place of the injury-plauged Bryant. Bryant still played off the bench, but was ineffective in the first half, scoring just 2 points on 0/2 shooting with zero assists and two turnovers. 10 BYU first half turnovers let Niagara get back into the game, and resulted in a 34-31 halftime deficit for the Cougars despite shooting 48% from the field in the first half.
Bryant became more assertive in the second half, attacking the basket to draw shooting fouls on multiple occasions in addition to knocking down a few clutch threes at optimal moments to propel a Cougar run. After BYU took the lead early in the half, Zac Seljaas hit a three on a nice pass out of the post by Childs to give BYU their largest lead of 8 points, with 7:56 left in the contest. While Niagara made one more run, a high-low alley oop from pass from Worthington to Childs gave BYU their first double-digit lead of the game with under 5 minutes remaining. Childs then stole a lob pass at the top of the 1-3-1 zone and went coast-to-coast for a dunk to put the game away for good with 2 minutes left.
Three takeaways from tonight
- This team will only go as far as Elijah Bryant will take them. While he is still struggling with a nagging foot injury, he provided the necessary offensive spark in the second half after being non-existent in the first half. BYU simply does not have another player who can come close to matching Bryant’s ability to create his own shot and get the foul line.
- Luke Worthington might be BYU’s most improved player this season coming home from his mission. He was a very limited offensive player in his first two seasons, but has shown a nice ability to make jump hooks with both hands in the post over the past couple of games. While he obviously cannot replace Eric Mika’s production from last season, he does help give the Cougar offense a second interior scoring option to complement Yoeli Childs.
- T.J. Haws is doing a nice job BYU’s de-facto point guard. While 6’0 Jahshire Hardnett started in place of Elijah Bryant, Haws did a nice job of using his strong ball handling skills to draw in the defense and find the open man, finishing with 6 assists and just two turnovers in the victory. His scoring has been slightly down from his freshman season through the first few games, but he started to get back on track tonight with an efficient shooting night.