It wasn't a resounding victory, but it was a win nonetheless — and that counts for something when a team is without one of its best players.
Despite playing without suspended freshman guard Nick Emery, BYU built a sizable second half lead against a dangerous Weber State squad, then held on down the stretch for a 73-68 victory over their in-state counterpart in Salt Lake City.
Chase Fischer led the Cougars with 21 points, while Kyle Davis added 15 points and 8 rebounds. Kyle Collinsworth contributed 15 points and 10 assists — including two game-sealing free throws in the final seconds.
The first half was an offensive fireworks show, with both teams scorching the nets and little defense in sight. The Cougars shot 60 percent from the field in the opening frame, while the Wildcats poured in a 67 percent performance of their own.
While the BYU offense didn't look quite like it has in years past — figuring out how to replace all-time leading scorer Tyler Haws' central role is still an open question for Dave Rose in company — it was good enough to keep them on pace for nearly 80 points through the first half. The problems came more so on the defensive end, where Emery's absence was profoundly obvious. The freshman's trademark defensive intensity was sorely missed on the perimeter, as Weber State's guards repeatedly shook loose for open looks, resulting in the Wildcats knocking down 42 percent of their three-point attempts before the break.
Things improved considerably in the first 10 minutes of the second half, with the Cougars ratcheting up the defensive pressure and holding the Wildcats to just 38 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc for the period. BYU used this renewed defensive intensity and 21 combined second half points from Fischer and Collinsworth to build its largest lead of the game — a 12-point margin with roughly 11 minutes to play.
From there, the home-away-from-home team held on — but not without some white knuckles. The Wildcats never stopped pushing, and they capitalized on a boatload off missed BYU free throws to whittle the lead down to as few as three points in the final minute. Collinsworth ultimately made a pair to push the lead back to five with 10 seconds left and finally seal the game, but before that, the Cougars had shot a dismal 38 percent on free throws over the game's final five minutes.
This isn't a new problem for BYU, but it's quickly becoming a persistent one. The Cougars are converting only 59 percent of their freebies as a team on the season — putting them 340th (out of only 351 Division I teams!) nationally. They've already lost at least one close game due to a dumptruck-full of wasted opportunities at the stripe, and it will be difficult for them to beat good teams in close games if they can't convert their freebies.
Thankfully, though Weber State looks much improved over a year ago, they were not quite good enough to fully take advantage of BYU's self-inflicted wounds and the Cougars held on for the victory. It was an uneven and unconvincing one, but it was still a win against a solid opponent on a neutral floor, without an important player. Hopefully Emery's return and some improved consistency on both ends can help steel the team before Wednesday's matchup with a tough Utah State squad.